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Pappa al Pomodoro – Tuscan Tomato Bread Soup

Don’t throw your stale bread away! Make a pot of Pappa al Pomodoro instead. With some fresh or canned tomatoes, a loaf of stale bread, olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, you can cook and enjoy the classic Tuscan tomato bread soup at home.

Pappa al Pomodoro - On tray - Birdseye View

Baking bread is trendy.

After discovering the joys of baking bread from scratch, home cooks are baking homespun yeasted loaves and nurturing sourdough starters. For a generation that grew up during the era of processed bread, the concept of creating fresh, crusty boules and loaves is a revelation. But, let’s face it, there’s only so much fresh bread that they can eat.

As for us, we don’t bake our own bread. Instead, we purchase fresh bread daily in Lisbon – it’s just something people just do in Europe. Whether we buy French baguettes at our favorite grocery store or an artisan boule at one of our favorite bread bakeries, eating finely crafted loaves has become an addiction.

Tuscan Bread
We love to eat Tuscan bread. We also love to transform it into Pappa al Pommodoro.

As much as we love it, we can’t eat every crumb of bread we buy while it’s still fresh. Fresh bread often sits in our bread box and becomes stale. A couple days go by, bread dries up and those spongy, yeasty, pillows we bought on Wednesday become inedible bricks on Friday.

This is when it’s time to repurpose.

Look in kitchens around the world and you’ll find that little is wasted. In France, yesterday’s Brioche becomes tomorrow’s Pain Purdu. In China, there’s always some day old rice in the refrigerator ready to be re-woked into something special.

Ribollita at a Florence
We ate this classic Ribollita at a trattoria in Florence. Similar to Pappa al Pomodoro, the Florentine bean dish features stale bread as a key component.

And in Italy, one of the great culinary countries of the world, day-old Tuscan bread becomes something truly special in Florence.

Peruse a menu’s primi (i.e. starter) section in the renaissance city and you’ll find two examples of stale bread repurposing. Ribollita adds stale bread to Italian white beans to create a hearty dish while Pappa al Pomodoro is a seemingly luxurious stewed mixture of tomato and bread bound together with local olive oil and cheese.

→ Pappa al Pomodoro is one of the best soups in the world. Discover more tasty global soups.

Italy and Cucina Povera

Selling Produce at the Mercado San Ambrogio in Florence
Italians shop daily at markets like Mercato di Sant‘Ambrogio in Florence. Fresh tomatoes are typically on the shopping list.

Cucina povera, which literally translates to poor kitchen, is an Italian tradition in which common, affordable ingredients like wheat, tomatoes and beans are combined to make something magical. Pappa al Pomodoro is a prime example of the age-old practice.

Pappa al Pomodoro (also known as Pappa con Pomodoro) starts with juicy ripe tomatoes that are cooked to make a tomato sauce. As home cooks mix stale bread with the cooked sauce, the bread absorbs all the elements of the sauce. The result is a dish that’s not only filling but also a rustic synthesis of wheaty bread and sweet, ripe, acidic tomatoes.

Plum Tomatoes at a market in Naples
Great tomatoes are everywhere in Italy. We spotted these juicy gems at a market stall in Naples’ Sanità district.

Think about how awesome it is to use a piece of torn Italian bread to absorb leftover sauce at the bottom of a bowl of pasta either in Italy or at home. Pasta al Pomodoro streamlines the process, integrating the flavors of bread and tomato in every luscious bite.

Pappa al Pomodoro Ingredients

Mise en Place for Pappa al Pomodoro
Assembling the mise en place is the first step when cooking Pappa al Pomodoro. Pictured here are the basil, garlic, olive oil, onion, stale bread and tomatoes. Not pictured are the red pepper flakes and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

The ingredient list for Pappa al Pomodoro is fairly short and doesn’t require anything exotic. In fact, you likely have most, if not all, of the following required items in your kitchen:

  • Basil
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • Italian Pepper Flake (optional)
  • Onion
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
  • Salt
  • Stale Bread
  • Tomatoes

We cooked our Pappa al Pomodoro in August, a month when great fresh tomatoes are readily available at local markets and grocery stores. But summer isn’t the only time of year to make this Tuscan soup at home.

We recommend using a jar of Tomato Passata when fresh tomatoes aren’t available. Another option is to substitute the fresh tomatoes with a 15 oz. can of whole tomatoes.

Click here to buy a jar of Passata from Amazon.

Tomatoes

Two Tomatoes for Pasta al Pomodoro
We used these two tomatoes while testing the Pappa Pomodoro recipe in our home kitchen.

If you choose to use fresh tomatoes, you’ll want to blanch them for a minute or two in boiling water to remove the skins. You’ll also want to core the tomatoes and remove the stem end.

Blanching tomatoes for Peeling
Don’t forget to blanch your fresh tomatoes. We didn’t forget to blanch ours during our second Pappa al Pomodoro cooking session.

You’ll then add the cored, peeled tomatoes to your pot, continually cooking, stirring and mashing the tomatoes until they’ve softened and broken down into a sauce.

Bread

Sliced Bread for Papa al Pomodoro
We bought this loaf of country bread and purposely let it get stale. Any bread without seeds will work in this recipe.

You have two options with the bread in this recipe. You can either use bread that’s naturally become stale or you can buy a whole loaf and let it go stale on purpose.

Regardless of your choice, you’ll need to cut the crusts off the stale bread before proceeding with the recipe.

Pro Tip
If you plan to use bread that’s more than 2-3 days old, cut the crusts off the stale bread before it becomes too hard.

How to Make Pappa al Pomodoro

Pappa al Pomodoro with Fresh Basil on the side
Pappa al Pomodoro is a classic Tuscan tomato bread soup that’s easy to cook at home.

When you prepare Pappa al Pomodoro, you’ll want to start with bread that’s about two days old. If you buy the bread fresh for this purpose, remove the crusts and slice the loaf so that the bread dries out more quickly.

Pro Tip
We recommend a good country loaf but any good quality loaf of unseeded bread should do. 

Cutting a tomato before blanching it
X marks the spot on our juicy red tomato.

It’s important to cook the tomato sauce before adding the stale bread when you cook Pappa al Pomodoro at home. Once again, if tomatoes aren’t in season, you can use canned whole tomatoes or jarred passata instead.

To blanch fresh tomatoes, use a paring knife to cut an x into the non-stem side of each tomato. Once you bring a pot of water to a boil, submerge the tomatoes into the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes.

Peeling a Blanched Tomato for Tomato Sauce
Once you peel the tomatoes, it’s go time.

The next step is to remove the tomatoes from the pot and place them in an ice bath until they’re cool enough to handle.

Once the tomatoes are cool, remove them from the ice bath and peel each tomato. Core the stems and place the tomatoes aside.

Sauteeing a Soffritto
We love hearing the sizzle when we sauté our onion.

Now you’re ready to make the pomodoro sauce.

Sauté half of a large diced onion in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil until the onion is a pale golden color. While the onion is sautéing, add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for about a minute until fragrant. Don’t let the garlic to burn!

We choose to add chilies to our Pappa al Pomodoro for a little bit of heat. If you don’t like hot or spicy food, you can omit them.

Chili Options
We use one fresh Portuguese piri-piri pepper since we live in Portugal; however, you can substitute the piri-piri pepper with a quarter teaspoon of red pepper flakes unless you’re in Portugal too.

Cooking Fresh Tomatoes for Tomato Sauce
We love how the tomatoes look before they transform to tomato sauce.

Add the whole tomatoes. Gently crush and stir the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. The tomatoes will soften as they cook over low heat.

The tomatoes will break down and the sauce will come together after about 45 minutes to an hour on the stove. Add a handful of torn basil leaves.

Adding Stale Bread to Tomato Sauce for Pappa al Pomodoro
It looks like we’re adding a lot of bread. Don’t worry – the bread will quickly break down and become part of the soup.

Once the tomatoes are thoroughly cooked, add the stale, crust-free bread. The bread will break down in about 30 seconds and the soup will be ready to serve.

Grating Cheese into Pappa al Pomodoro
Grating Parmigiano-Reggiano is one of the final steps in our Pappa al Pomodoro recipe.

Finish the dish with a generous amount of good extra virgin olive oil (approximately two tablespoons) and a healthy grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The cheese provides nice umami undertones while the olive oil provides a rich, fatty mouthfeel.

We also add fresh basil as a garnish. You could use parsley or even tarragon as a substitute depending on your taste and availability.

Pappa al Pomodoro Recipe

Finished Pot and Bowl of Pappa al Pomodoro
Making Pappa al Pomodoro at home is both fun and cost effective. The end result will fill your belly and make you smile.

Preparing Pappa al Pomodoro is an inexpensive way to eat like an Italian without getting on a plane. It’s also easy to do for all levels of home cooks.

Bear in mind that quantities can be flexible. We provide solid quantities on how much bread and tomato to use. However, you can be creative like the Tuscans and use what you have ‘on hand’ to create a wonderful Pappa Pomodoro.

We encourage you to make this this Tuscan classic again and again. The more you make it, the more this dish will become part of your kitchen repertoire.

Overhead Centered View of Pappa Pomodoro

Pappa al Pomodoro

Yield: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Pappa al Pomodoro is a classic Tuscan tomato bread soup. With this recipe, you just need a few common pantry staples to create something magical in your home kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh ripe plum tomatoes
  • 1 pound stale unseeded country bread, crusts removed and cut into cubes.
  • 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1/4 teaspoon Italian chili flake (optional)

Instructions

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. While the water is heating up, use a sharp knife to cut a cross on the non-stem end of the tomatoes.
  2. Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. After blanching, drop the tomatoes in an ice bath for 5 minutes or until the tomatoes have cooled.
  3. Peel and core the tomatoes. Remove the stem ends.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a 4 quart saucepan. Once the oil has heated, add the onions to the pan and sauté until soft and pale golden.
  5. Add the garlic and chili flake to the pan, sauté until fragrant, about one minute. You can omit the pepper flakes to a achieve a mild flavor.
  6. Add the tomatoes and reduce the fire to low. Crush and squeeze them against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon.
  7. Cook the tomatoes at a slow simmer until they've softened and broken down into a sauce. If the mixture gets too thick, add water to the pot so that the mixture doesn't burn.
  8. Add the 2/3 of the torn basil and mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Add the bread cubes and stir until incorporated.
  10. Add the remainder of the olive oil and the grated cheese and remove from the stove.
  11. Garnish with the remainder of the basil leaves and serve with additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste.

Notes

  • You can replace fresh tomatoes with half a bottle of Passata Rustica (340 grams or 12 ounces).
  • You can also replace the fresh tomatoes with half of a 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes.
  • Don't add the bread, if using fresh tomatoes, until the sauce is thoroughly cooked. Otherwise, your Tuscan soup will take a very long time to cook.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 532Total Fat: 22gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 12mgSodium: 825mgCarbohydrates: 69gFiber: 6gSugar: 13gProtein: 16g

Nutrition Disclosure: We used an online calculator to calculate this information. Though 2foodtrippers.com has attempted to secure accurate data, these nutritional figures are estimates.

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About the Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

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