Pappa al pomodoro is basically soup made from stale bread and tomatoes. It makes clever and delicious use of so many of the quintessential Italian flavors — tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil — sort of a bruschetta soup, but in a good way. You could also easily toss some burrata or stracciatella on top when serving it hot to complete the stereotypical (and delicious) Italian flavor profile.
Pappa al pomodoro is part of Italy’s culinary tradition of la povera cucina or poor kitchen in which cooks relied on basic and readily available ingredients to make simple and sustaining meals with what they had, in this case stale bread. Pappa refers to the texture of the soup which is akin to baby food.
This recipe relies on classic Tuscan bread, that can be found throughout central Italy, and which is made with just flour, yeast, and water. It contains no salt or oil. The saltlessness makes it a great companion for salty cured meats. The bread also doesn’t get moldy when it goes bad. It just dries out and grows as hard as a brick. The Tuscans have devised several tasty uses for this bread from panzanella salad to ribollita soup to pappa al pomodoro.
Pappa al pomodoro can be served hot or cold which makes it a convenient and easy meal option year-round.
Pappa al Pomodoro aka stale bread and tomato soup
- Approximately 3.5 cups (800 mls or 28 ounce can) tomato purée
- 1/2 loaf stale Tuscan bread (about 350 grams), or a country loaf, thinly sliced
- 6 cups vegetable broth – and an extra cup or two if needed while cooking (easily made by simmering vegetables in water)
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
- Olive oil
- A pinch of sugar
- Salt and pepper
- A bunch of basil
- Place the sliced bread on a baking sheet and bake for about 5-10 minutes at 375°F (190°C) until dry and lightly toasted.
- When cool enough to handle, rub them with garlic.
- Place the toasted bread on the bottom of a soup pot and cover with the pureed tomatoes and then the vegetable broth making sure the bread is fully covered with liquid. Add a couple swirls of olive oil for good measure.
- Stir in a couple of sprigs of basil and a pinch of sugar.
- Cook over low heat for about 45 minutes while stirring occasionally until the liquid evaporates and the bread turns into a soupy texture. Add more vegetable broth if needed.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Place in serving bowls and garnish with some torn basil and a drizzle of olive oil.