Summary: Pappa al pomodoro is the consummate comfort food. Humble, simple, rustic, and hearty, I am always amazed that five extraordinarily basic ingredients can be cooked into something so spectacular.
My sister lives in Florence and over the years, I've attempted to learn Italian so that I can converse with her friends and in-laws. I practice the language whenever I can and a few years ago, at my youngest son's school, I met a wonderful Florentine woman, Tania Morrocchi, whose daughter was in his class. In my halting Italian, the first thing I asked her was her recipe for this soup. She kindly shared it, and while I've made it my own, I think of her each time I make and enjoy this dish!
My version was chosen as a Community Pick on Food52.
Yield: serves 4 plus leftovers
- 1/4 + 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic (more if you're positively wild for intense garlic), minced or put through a press
- at least ½ cup of fresh basil, shredded
- 6 cups cubed or torn day-old bread (this is roughly one smallish loaf ciabatta or French baguette)
- two 28-ounce cans San Marzano or other good quality whole tomatoes in juice + one 14-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
- 2½ cups water
- 10 fresh sage leaves; 6 minced, 4 left whole
In a large soup pot set over medium heat, pour a quarter-cup of the olive oil, and gently turn the pan so that the oil coats the bottom. When the oil is warm, add the garlic and saute for a bit; don't let it get brown.
Add the basil and stir, then add the cubed bread plus some salt and fresh pepper.
When the bread is oiled and a bit toasted, add the tomatoes and their juices. Roughly mash the whole tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.
Once this has all cooked together some, taste and add more salt if it doesn't taste bright. Then, add water (about 2 and 1/2 cups) to get a thick but not super thick consistency. Simmer for a while, about 40 minutes, stirring regularly.
In the meantime, make the sage oil by heating the remaining third-cup of oil in a small pan over medium-high heat. When it's quite hot, add all the sage and remove from heat. Let steep for about 20 minutes. Carefully remove the whole leaves for garnish and strain the oil through a fine mesh sieve. When the soup is ready, ladle into bowls and drizzle some of the strained oil over each. Garnish with a fried sage leaf and serve.