From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...The late August summers of my Chicago childhood moved in veiled slow-motion. Mirage-like waves rose from the steaming pavement and the incessant drone of cicadas slowed already weary bodies to a dirge like sway. Afternoons were spent under the sprinkler or reading beneath the rank trees-of-heaven that grew untended in the neighborhood. Boredom was a common malady that I escaped by venturing across the street to the Salvino's garden. When the tomatoes came in, the stamp-size plot and the kitchen of the bungalow teemed with activity as Mama S. and her sisters put-by the hundreds of jars that would be used for winter meals. Several of the sisters worked over an old starch stove that had been set up in the yard to contain the mess that came with blanching and skinning bushels of tomatoes. Another crew used the old stove in the basement to sterilize jars for canning, but the jars were filled upstairs in the blast furnace of a kitchen under Mama's watchful eye. The kitchen produced jar after jar of stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste, and, when lunch rolled around, everyone got to enjoy a marvelous Tuscan soup called pappa al pomodori. Mama called the soup tomato water. It contained the juice of sieved tomatoes, a handful of fresh basil, some onion and cubes of stale bread that were used to thicken the broth. I suspect that to those who have never sampled it, the soup sounds like prison fare, but, I promise you, that when it is freshly made, it is, unequivocally, delicious. There are scores of recipes for the soup. Jamie Oliver has one that is wonderful, but I prefer to use one that was developed by Mary Ann Esposito and featured on her program Ciao Italia. It's a hands down favorite for me, because of all the recipes I've found, it is the one most like the soup I first tasted as a child. This is a straightforward recipe and I know those of you who try it will enjoy this peasant favorite. It is important to use fully ripe, meaty, blood red tomatoes and good day-old bread when you put this together. This is a wonderful way to use summer's bounty and I hope you will give this soup a try. You can see Mary Ann make the recipe, here. I've included her recipe below. Here's how pappa al pomodori is made.
Tuscan Tomato and Bread Soup - Pappa al Pomodori...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Mary Ann Esposito
2-1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, cored and cut in half
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound leeks, white bulb only, finely diced
12 basil leaves, minced
3 cups hot chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Grinding black pepper
3 cups stale bread cut into 1-inch cubes
1) Puree tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Pour mixture into a fine sieve placed over a large bowl. Strain juice by pressing down with a wooden spoon; discard seeds and skins. Set aside.
2) Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large soup pot, stir in leeks and half the basil and cook until leeks soften. Stir in tomato juice, broth, salt, and pepper and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Cover pot and remove from hit.
3) Heat remaining olive oil in a large sauté pan. Stir in remaining basil and bread cubes. Brown bread quickly over medium heat. Stir cubes into soup. Cover the pan and allow bread to absorb liquid.
4) When ready to serve, slowly reheat the soup. Pass extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on top. Yield: 8 servings.
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