Tomato and Bread Soup (Pappa al Pomodoro)
It’s drizzly and cool outside my window. Not unusual for Northern California in April, and welcome, given the severe drought we’ve been having this year. Even though spring is officially here, I’m enjoying the last legs of wintery weather, and any excuse to make something hearty and warm such as this Italian tomato and bread soup.
Pappa al Pomodoro is this soup’s official name. (Bless the Italians, they make everything sound so much fun.) It’s a rustic soup made with tomatoes, garlic, onions, stock, and of course, bread—preferably a good Italian loaf. Even though it’s a tomato soup, you don’t have to wait until August or September to enjoy it. Canned tomatoes, harvested at peak season, work beautifully in this soup.
If it is summertime, toss in a handful of fresh basil leaves. If not, fresh parsley is lovely as a garnish, along with some grated Parmesan cheese.
Given that the primary ingredient in this soup is tomato, the quality of tomatoes you use is vital to the taste of the soup. Use a good quality canned tomato such as a San Marzano or Muir Glen. If using fresh tomatoes, use very ripe, in-season tomatoes.
- 2 cups diced yellow onion
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes (or about 4 pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes, that are blanched, peeled, and chopped*)
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 2 more Tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups of cubed rustic bread, 1 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 to 3 thick slices of Italian loaf), day old is best
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, less or more to taste
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh basil or parsley for garnish
*To prepare fresh tomatoes for this recipe, cut out the stem end, score the bottoms with a sharp knife. Put into boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Place in ice water to quickly cool. Peel back the tomato peels and discard. Chop the tomatoes, saving as much of the juice as you can. Add the chopped tomatoes and the juice in place of the canned tomatoes in step 2.
1 Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil on medium heat in a 5 to 6-quart thick-bottomed pot. Add the diced onions and cook slowly until softened and beginning to color, about 10-12 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook a minute more.
2 Add tomatoes to the pot with the onions, crushing them by hand as you put them in the pot. Discard any hard stem ends or stray tomato skins. Add chicken stock, bay leaves, and dried oregano. Heat to a simmer and reduce heat to maintain a low simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. As you are cooking the tomato soup base, prepare the bread croutons in the next step.
3 Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a sauté pan on medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the cubed bread to the pan. Toss to coat with the oil and spread the cubes out in a single layer. Let sit in pan without moving until one side is golden browned, then use tongs to turn over to another side. Once at least two sides have browned, remove from heat.
4 Once the tomatoes have cooked for 20 minutes, add the lightly browned croutons to the soup. Cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.
5 Remove the bay leaves. Use an immersion blender to roughly purée the soup (about half of the soup, leave some chunky bits).
Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan and chopped fresh basil or parsley.