It’s hard to think about Italian food without thinking of tomatoes, particularly in Tuscany, where plump, flavour-packed, ruby red orbs grow in neat, lovingly-tended rows across the region.
In Tuscany, you can find all manner of rich tomato sauces married with thick, firm pastas.
Pappardelle al cinghiale, for example, sees a broad ribbon egg pasta paired with a sauce of tomatoes and wild boar, while Pappardelle alla lepre takes the same approach but with hare.
It’s worth noting that in Italy, you’ll never see an authentic ragù paired with spaghetti. This is because the thinner pastas are reserved for thinner sauces, such as Cacio e Pepe. Indeed, the serving of spaghetti bolognese is a quite English tradition.
But of course, pasta isn’t the only fine accompaniment to tomatoes. Bread and tomatoes have their own centuries long love affair, not least in the form of pizza, but there’s also a wonderful traditional Italian dish that might not have passed your lips before: Pappa al pomodoro.
Pappa al pomodoro is a tomato soup made with broth, soffritto, tomatoes, stale white bread, basil, garlic and a good dose of patience, because in all, it will take about four hours to cook.
Before you click away aghast at the thought of spending four hours for the sake of four small or two medium-sized bowls of soup, let me promise you that it’s worth it for the mature, slow-cooked flavour. It takes little direct effort, and your kitchen will smell like a Tuscan farmhouse all day.
It’s a perfect starter that can be bubbling away as you prepare your main course, and a great way to use up stale bread.
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 medium white onion
- 1 celery stick
- 1 litre of water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ white onion
- ½ carrot
- ½ stick of celery
- 10 basil leaves
- pinch of salt
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 can of good quality chopped tomatoes (they’re the heart of the dish so don’t skimp)
- 2 slices of medium thickness white bread, roughly cubed with the crusts removed (the better the bread, the better the soup)
- Start by making the simple vegetable broth Slice the carrots and celery thickly and chop the onion into quarters and add to a large pan. Pour in 1 litre boiling water, bring up to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and leave simmering for 30 minutes.
- In another pan, make the soffritto by warming the olive oil over a medium-low heat. Finely chop the onion, carrot, and celery and sweat in the pan until soft.
- Add the basil leaves, salt, finely chopped garlic, tomatoes and the stale bread and cook until the bread has absorbed the tomato liquid.
- Strain the broth (keep the veggies for something else – it’s a shame to waste them) and add the broth liquid to the tomato pan. Keeping the heat low and the pan semi-covered, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes, then take off the heat, cover and leave for 30 minutes to rest.
- Repeat the 30-minute cook, 30-minute rest cycle twice more.
- Serve with a drizzle of olive oil on the top to complete the glossy, swirled look and silky texture of this delicate, delicious dish that’s well worth the wait.