Spending more time in Italy every year reminds me of things I didn’t notice about my Nonni (grandparents) growing up, but as I grew older I wondered why they did certain things in certain ways, meaning not like everyone else!?
I learned that how they lived in Italy was how they lived in the US. They shopped for food on a daily basis (usually in the morning) as opposed to a large once-weekly shopping trip. Shopping for food in Italy means buying food that one needs for that day (maybe two because there may be leftovers, depending how many people showed up!?), and buying only what is fresh and “in season”, or vegetables that my Nonno hadn’t grown in his garden. I think we now know it as the Mediterranean diet. Life for my Nonni in Italy before their immigration to the US was difficult. They didn’t waste anything even after coming to the US, so this concept of buying fresh everyday also helped in reducing food waste.
Most Italian dishes are from ‘cucina povera’, poor kitchen, or poor peasant cooking. That being said, there are some wonderful traditional recipes in Italy that are made with ‘stale’ ingredients, like bread.
Tuscan bread, used in this recipe, is usually unsalted, the reason is it dates back to the 12th century. The rulers of Pisa were at odds with the rulers of Florence, and cut off their supply lines from the coast. This made salt prohibitively expensive. The Florentines, unwilling to cave to the pressure, simply began making their bread without it, and this tradition continues today.
So, our Tuscan chef at Villas of Italy, Chef Mauro, has a wonderful recipe to use day old rustic Tuscan style Italian bread, Pappa al Pomodoro. Those of you who have stayed with us have enjoyed Chef Mauro’s Pappa al Pomodoro, and this is the perfect time of year to talk about this recipe because it's ideal to take advantage of the delicious plump red tomatoes that are abundant in super and farmers markets during the coming hot summer months.
The Italian word 'pappa' translates to baby food, which pretty much describes the consistency of the finished product: a dish that can be eaten at any age. But with amazing tomatoes, fresh basil and high-quality olive oil, the flavor is anything but boring.
Many Tuscans will tell you not to even think of putting grated parmesan cheese on it... but sorry… I love a scattering of freshly grated cheese and freshly cracked black pepper on top!
PAPPA AL POMODORO
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Cut a slit in the base of each tomato. Add the tomatoes to the boiling water and blanch just until the skins start to split, about 10 seconds. Transfer the blanched tomatoes to the ice water to cool.
Peel and halve the tomatoes crosswise. Working over a mesh strainer set over a large bowl, pry out the seeds and press the tomato juice and pulp through the strainer. Discard the seeds. Coarsely chop the tomatoes.
Wipe out the pot and heat the 1/2 cup of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and crushed red pepper and season with salt. Cover partially and simmer over moderately high heat until the tomatoes have cooked down, about 30 minutes.
Add the bread and the reserved tomato juices to the soup and cook, mashing the bread until fully incorporated, and season with salt. Stir in the basil leaves. Spoon the soup into shallow bowls, drizzle lightly with olive oil, top with a few torn pieces of basil and serve right away.
Make Ahead - The soup can be prepared through Step 3 and refrigerated overnight. Reheat before proceeding.
Suggested Wine Pairing - This traditional Tuscan soup is robust enough for red wine, but its summery flavors taste particularly good with rosato (rosé), especially ones made from Sangiovese; the wine's cherry-berry fruit seems to intensify the already sweet flavors of end-of-season tomatoes.
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Tony Moglia's grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's. He's a dual citizen who has traveled extensively throughout Italy for 40 years. He's happily married to a vibrant dancer who together have two children and three grandchildren. Tony has dreamed of Villas of Italy since his first trip to Italy, and now he shares his dream with you.