Tomato and Bread Soup (Papa al Pomodoro)

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Tomato soup …Yumm!  I’ve loved tomato soup since my mom used to heat up a can of Campbell’s for lunch.  But this is so much healthier, so much fresher — if you love tomato soup, you have got to try it.  It is a very easy recipe; there is no cream in it; and if you love bread, it has bread inside and out!

I first heard of Pappa al Pomodoro in a newspaper article I read.  I thought it sounded really weird, cooking bread into soup.  But then I thought, hey, I love to dip bread into my soup!  So I looked into some recipes.

After a couple tries I think I have perfected what was obviously a good soup in the first place, made by Ina Garten and posted on Food Network.  I mean, I cannot top Ina Garten.  I just made the soup more to my taste, eliminated a lot of the fat calories and reduced the salt.  But I also added more bread, because the bread cooking into the soup gives it an amazing thick yet delicate consistency.  As you can see from the pictures, it comes out with a satiny finish that you just have to try.

Because this soup is dependent on just a few base ingredients for its flavor, you will often see “good” or “high quality” listed in the ingredients.  Splurge a little and don’t buy the bargain brands, you will taste the difference.

INGREDIENTS (serves 6)

1/4 cup good quality olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion (about 2 medium onions)
1 cup medium-diced carrots, unpeeled (3 carrots)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and medium-diced (1 1/2 cups)
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
5 cups diced (1 “) ciabatta cubes, crusts removed (about half of a 12 oz loaf)
2 (28-ounce) cans good Italian whole plum tomatoes or other high quality canned whole tomatoes
4 cups good quality chicken stock
1/2 – 1 cup good red wine (not from a box)
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (you can use 1/4 cup dried basil if you cannot find fresh)
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes to taste
3/4 cup grated Parmesan (a good brand)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder

For the croutons:
5 cups – (about half a 12 oz Ciabatta loaf) – 1-inch diced ciabatta cubes, crusts on
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

optional: fresh basil, more olive oil, and shredded parmesan to sprinkle on top

DIRECTIONS

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until tender.  (Don’t chop the veggies too finely; medium-sized pieces will lend the soup more flavor.)

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Add the 5 cups of crustless ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes.

Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade (you can also use a regular blender) and pulse just until tomatoes are chopped but not completely liquid. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, 1 teaspoon sea salt, and 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper.

Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

For croutons: place the remaining crusted 5 cups of ciabatta cubes in a large bowl. Drizzle with 3 tblsp olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste (start with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper) and toss well. Place on large cookie sheet in single layer.

Note: scoop up any leftover bread crumbs and add to soup.

Bake croutons for 10 to 15 minutes, until the bread is beginning to brown.

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(At this point, if you have time: Turn off soup and let sit with lid off for 20 to 30 min to rest.)

When soup is finished cooking and/or done resting: pulse soup with hand-held immersion blender until consistency is relatively smooth, or:

Pour the soup into a blender or food processor, a few cups at a time, and pulse until relatively smooth, pouring the processed soup into a large bowl or pot to make room for more. When all the soup has been processed, return soup to pot.

Reheat the soup, if necessary. Stir in the Parmesan, red pepper, garlic and onion powders and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper (or red pepper) if needed.

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Serve hot sprinkled with the croutons, and optionally topped with more fresh basil, some shredded parmesan, and if you want a richer soup, drizzle with additional olive oil.  Freeze leftovers for another day!

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