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.
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.
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.
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
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 in Florence, one of Italy’s top food cities.
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.
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
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:
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.
Buy a jar of Passata from Amazon.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
We recommend a good country loaf but any good quality loaf of unseeded bread should do.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- Peel and core the tomatoes. Remove the stem ends.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add the tomatoes and reduce the fire to low. Crush and squeeze them against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon.
- 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.
- Add the 2/3 of the torn basil and mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the bread cubes and stir until incorporated.
- Add the remainder of the olive oil and the grated cheese and remove from the stove.
- Garnish with the remainder of the basil leaves and serve with additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste.
- 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.
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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.
Original Publication Date: August 22, 2021