Bread in Busy Times
I must apologize for not writing much lately. I am in the last few months of my senior year in college, furiously working to finish my thesis and making sure that I leave the university with everything in order. I have been baking bread the past few weeks, but have not been doing much experimenting, sticking to the old recipes that are familiar and comforting to me. I promise that by the beginning of May I will be finished and will return to my regular updates on new breads from my oven.
Amidst all this work, I find relaxation in preparing simple, satisfying meals. Basic, but rich and flavorful ingredients are what my body and mind seem to be craving at the moment. The other day as I was poking through the freezer, figuring out what winter leftovers needed to be cleaned out, I came across a bag of saved bits of bread that had gone stale before we had a chance to eat them. I recalled a simple meal I had in Florence years back of tomato-bread soup or Pappa al Pomodoro and decided at once that I was going to try and recreate it.
I picked out old bits of rye crusts, tangy sourdoughs, and some whole-grain slices, leaving the chunks of stollen and fruit and nut breads for another day when a craving for bread pudding arises. I chopped up the pieces into small, manageable bits and then thought about what else to include in the soup. The essentials I decided were olive oil, onions, garlic, a bit of spice, whole tomatoes, hearty vegetable stock, and basil. I had some home made vegetable stock on hand and plenty of canned tomatoes. While fresh, ripe tomatoes would most certainly be preferable, it is April and there are no tomatoes growing in the local area at the moment. I must confess, however, that I did sin a bit … I bought a bunch of basil. While dried spices could have worked in a pinch, the large leaves of whole basil I thought were key to the flavor and texture of this soup.
So here is my rough version of Pappa al Pomodoro. I make no claims to authenticity. The beauty of this soup is that it is flexible and hard to mess up. Put in the amount of the ingredients that you think are appropriate for the texture and flavor you desire. I love the richness and the warmth it provides on these still blustery April days. As I eat it, I also enjoy remembering all the loaves of bread that I baked this last winter, still being able to taste the various unique flavors of the breads through the tomato, garlic, and onions.
Pappa al Pomodoro
Lots of olive oil
Roughly diced garlic
Chopped hot chile pepper (seeds removed to your taste)
Whole canned tomatoes
Stale bread, broken into small pieces
Fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large dutch oven or other big soup pot, heat a generous amount of olive oil. Add the onions, garlic, and chile pepper and sautee until the onions are soft and starting to brown. Add the whole canned tomatoes and all of their juice. Bring to a simmer and leave for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stale bread chunks. The bread will absorb a lot of liquid so add stock as necessary. You may end up adding a significant amount to get the soup to your preferred consistency. It should be pretty thick. Allow the soup to simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring every once in awhile. Stir in the basil, salt, and pepper and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve topped with parmesan cheese, grated or shaved.