To make this dish, you start as so many Italian dishes do, with a soffritto: saute chopped garlic and a peperoncino (or red pepper flakes) in olive oil and when you just begin to smell the garlic, add freshly chopped tomato or, if you don’t have any on hand, crushed canned tomato. Simmer for a few minutes, until the tomato has melted (if fresh) or simply reduced (if canned). Add cubes of day old or stale bread, mixing well. 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 a good handful of fresh basil leaves–no need to tear or chop them–stir and then take it off the heat and cover. Allow the pappa to rest about 20-30 minutes and serve, topped with un filo d’olio and (if you’re a pepperhead like me) freshly ground pepper.
NOTE: 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 to make pappa al pomodoro. 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 pappa–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, you should peel them and take out the seeds, but, to be honest, I’m usually too lazy to do so…