Make Italy’s Greatest Comfort Soup to Ease the Hell of Election Week
NYC chef Donna Lennard shares her take on the sumptuous pappa al pomodoro
With stress levels spiking in tandem with coronavirus cases and the election less than a week away, many of us are turning to calories and carbs to help compensate.
For many, comfort comes in the form of out-of-the-box macaroni and cheese. Others go sweet and savory with something like chicken and waffles. And some just open a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup and call it a day.
All great choices to be sure, but for those who may want to seek comfort in the arms of a slightly more exotic option, chef Donna Lennard suggests a classic Tuscan dish of ancient origin. A soothing soup that’s simple to make, pappa al pomodoro is traditionally thrown together with leftovers commonly found in Italian kitchens.
“Its origins are very much from using what you’ve got,” Lennard, the author of a just-released cookbook highlighting dishes from her restaurant Il Buco: Stories & Recipes, tells InsideHook. “It’s a poor man’s dish. It’s what you’ve got left over. You’ve got the bounty of tomatoes growing in your garden, you’ve got day-old bread and every Italian has olive oil, basil and garlic.”
Essentially just tomatoes, olive oil and crusty bread, pappa al pomodoro is basic to be sure, but as Lennard points out, sometimes the simplest things are also the greatest.
“That’s the whole genesis of Il Buco. How do you choose the best possible ingredients and do as little as possible to them and really respect them and let them shine?” she says. “It is one of those really beautiful dishes that has three ingredients that sing. You put those three ingredients together and it’s just gorgeous every time. For me, tomato, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper with a beautiful piece of bread on the side is already a meal. So this is a slightly cooked version that’s warm and soothing for when the weather is not maybe so perfect and summery. It’s what you want when you just want to curl up on the sofa with a nice glass of red wine and feel cozy at home.”
Sound good? We thought so.
Donna Lennard’s Pappa al Pomodoro
- 3 to 4 slices filone or country bread, torn into ½-inch chunks
- 4 pounds ripe beefsteak tomatoes (about 8 large)
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
- ½ white onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon sea salt, plus additional for finishing 1 peperoncino (optional)
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped basil, plus more sprigs for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the bread on a sheet pan, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and toast approximately 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes by cutting an X in the top of each using a paring knife. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and prepare an ice bath by filling a medium-size bowl with ice and cold water and set aside.
- Once the water is boiling, add the tomatoes for between 45 seconds and 1 minute. Remove and plunge into the ice bath. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin (it should come off easily). Core and crush the tomatoes, doing so over an empty bowl to reserve the juice.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, heat ½ cup olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic, lowering the heat to medium-low and allowing to cook until the onions are translucent and the garlic is soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking to break up large chunks of tomato. Do not let the tomatoes boil. Allow the liquid to reduce. The pappa should be the consistency of a thick soup.
- Add salt and peperoncino if desired, stirring the mixture gently. Remove from heat and add torn-up bread to the skillet, stirring to break up and coat the bread. Let the bread and soup mixture sit for 30 minutes so the bread is incorporated into the tomato. If it is too thick, strain the reserved tomato juice, discarding seeds, and add.
- Stir in the chopped basil and another tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.
- Serve at room temperature, dividing equally among four bowls and garnishing with basil sprigs.
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