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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Pappa al Pomodoro: Recipe

Tuscans are infamous for being stingy. But when it comes to food that's not necessarily a bad thing. They are experts at cooking beans and even make a delicious soup called "cooked water" that is chock full of vegetables and topped with an egg. While living in Florence, I learned to make pappa al pomodoro, a typically Tuscan version of comfort food on the cheap. Thanks to Derrick over at Obsession with Food for hosting IMBB25 Stale Bread which reminded me of this dish that I love and hadn't made in ages (and just happens to use stale bread).

Pappa is "pap" or baby food. But imagine a thick soup that is infused with ripe tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, basil, and flavored with extra virgin olive oil and parmesan cheese. Pappa al pomodoro is classically Italian; it's not about fancy technique, but simple, excellent quality ingredients. Not only is it easy to make but it's easy to procure the necessary high quality ingredients practically year round.

While you can make it with fresh tomatoes, it's much easier to use canned tomatoes, and save yourself the hassle of peeling them. There is no definitive version of this recipe, if you want to add more garlic, more basil, red chili flakes, go right ahead. Just use the best quality ingredients you can. And whatever you do, don't confuse pappa, with papĂ  (dad) or il papa (the pope)!

Pappa al Pomodoro


1 loaf stale bread, preferably Tuscan style or country bread
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 leaves of basil
28 oz can peeled tomatoes with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
2-3 cups water, as needed
Salt and pepper to taste


Rip the bread into small pieces and soak it in water for until thoroughly wet, drain off any excess water. In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add celery, carrots, onions, garlic and basil. Cook vegetables over medium-low heat until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Smash the canned tomatoes or squeeze to break them up and add along with their juice and the tomato paste. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the bread and the water to the tomato sauce. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or until thick. Add the remaining olive oil and taste. Serve with shredded basil, grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Because the cheese is salty, add salt and pepper at the table.