I’ve been eating tomatoes like it’s going out of style lately. My lips are cracking in protest, but it’s worth every bite because it’s that time of year when they are at their peak.
I learned a quirky “culinary trick” years ago to make winter tomatoes taste more like, well, tomatoes: drizzle a little pineapple juice over them. It sounds weird, but something about the sweet-acidity of the pineapple tricks your taste buds into thinking something good’s going on. Of course you could also just avoid tomatoes all together until right now.
What I’m saying is this: the getting is good these days, so get a hold of some farm fresh ripe tomatoes any way you can and don’t let go. Any that you don’t munch as is with a little salt and olive oil, you can use to make “pappa al pomodoro,” a recipe my parents recommended from chef Michael Schlow’s book It’s About Time. The name sounds fancy, but don’t be fooled, this Tuscan tomato bread soup is hearty comfort food at its best. Like the classic Ribollita (literally: re-boiled), this bread soup is part of the Italian culinary waste-not want-not attitude. It’s all about the tomatoes (so make sure you start with the best), lightly fragrant with garlic, basil, and chili flakes and thickened with toasted bread. If you’ve never had a bread soup before, they are one of my favorites and a great way to put that day (or week) old bread to use – thick and filling, it’s part soup, part stew.
I scarfed this down bachelor style with a Cisco Whale’s Tale in front of the TV, but you could easily dress this soup for dinner with a bottle of Chianti and a pretty summer salad. Serves 4-6 as a first course and 2-4 for dinner.
For the Soup
6 tbsp good olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
8 very ripe summer tomatoes, diced (I blanched and peeled mine, but Michael Schlow uses his skin on.)
24 basil leaves, washed and left whole plus more for garnish
fresh ground pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
10 1 inch cubes day old rustic bread
Grated parmesan for topping
Set a medium sauce pan over medium heat and add the olive oil and the garlic. Sauté until the garlic begins to brown and then add the tomatoes along with a large pinch of salt. Cook 5-7 minutes until the tomatoes begin to fall apart.
Add the basil leaves, a good grind of black pepper, and a small pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and cook an additional 3-5 minutes until the tomatoes have broken up nicely, but are not completely dissolved.
Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed, adding more salt, pepper, or red pepper flakes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the bread. Allow to cool for 30 minutes, and then stir the soup to break up the bread slightly.
The soup will be quite thick – more like a stew than a brothy soup. Serve with a good drizzle of olive oil, lots of grated parmesan and fresh basil leaves.