- 1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 hot red pepper (peperoncino) or a pinch of red pepper flakes
- Olive oil
- 500g (1 lb) fresh or canned tomatoes, chopped
- Stale bread, cut into cubes
- Broth, preferably homemade, or water, q.b.
- A handful of fresh basil leaves (for a summer version) or a sprig of rosemary (for a winter version)
To make pappa al pomodoro, you start as so many Italian dishes do, with a soffritto: sauté the garlic and peperoncino (or red pepper flakes) in olive oil and, when you just begin to smell the garlic, add chopped fresh or (out of season) canned tomato, along with the sprig of rosemary, if using. (If using canned tomatoes, you can just simply squeeze them through your hands as you add them to the pot; crushed tomatoes will also do.) Simmer the tomato for a few minutes, until it has melted and reduced into a sauce like consistency.
Add bread cubes mixing well so that they all get anointed with the tomato. Then add enough water or broth, mixing all the while, for the bread to start to come apart and form a fairly firm, uniform ‘mush’. (It should be firm enough to eat with a fork, although you should use a spoon.)
Continue simmering for about 5 minutes, then add the fresh basil leaves if using—no need to tear or chop them—stir and then take the pot off the heat and cover. Allow the pappa to rest at least 20-30 minutes and serve, topped with un filo d’olio and (if you’re a pepperhead like me) freshly ground pepper.
Pappa al pomodoro is very good—perhaps even better—served the day after. It is delicious at room temperature and slightly warmed, but never scalding hot.
You need good crusty bread. This is a Tuscan dish, so Tuscan bread would obviously be a first choice. Sandwich bread–besides the fact that it never seems to go stale, just moldly—would turn out too soft. Yes, this is mush, but mush with character!
There are, of course, variations on this basic recipe. Some variations call for other odori besides (or instead of) garlic, typically onion, carrot and/or celery. The ratio of water/broth to bread can be varied according to how firm you like your papa—I like mine very firm. And the ratio of tomato to bread can vary, depending on how ‘red’ you like your pappa. If you use fresh tomatoes in your pappa al pomodoro, they say you should peel them and take out the seeds, but, to be honest, I’m usually too lazy to do so…