I’m officially ready for autumn. I’ve placed my oversized sweaters and boots in the forefront of my closet and I’ve been roasting cinnamon and pumpkin spice for my morning coffee for days now. Here, in New Jersey, our farewell to summer has been more damp and chilly than usual, and it has only added to my anticipation.
While I am ready for crisp nights, October days and the aroma of chimney smoke, I still have late-summer heirloom and Jersey tomatoes filling up bowls on my kitchen countertops. These ripe tomatoes have been looking at me all morning. I’m thinking they need one last chance to star as a main seasonal ingredient before their time here officially comes to an end. Since today is rainy and cool again, a simmering pot of comforting tomato soup sounds just perfect to me.
I’m relying on my Italian-influenced roots for today’s Roasted Tomato and Bread Soup. Otherwise known as Pappa al Pomodoro, which translates into “mush of tomato” in English. Though the translation does not sound quite as appetizing ;).
This Italian soup is steeped in ancient Tuscan tradition. It was a means for the Tuscans to salvage stale, or leftover bread, while filling their bellies with what was abundantly available to them: fresh tomatoes, garlic, and basil.
The stale bread was given new life as it soaked in the steaming tomato broth. It would absorb the broth, swell and soften, and eventually lose its shape thereby thickening up the soup.
If you have day old rustic Italian bread, like ciabatta, this is perfect. Since the bread I’m using isn’t stale, I’ve toasted it over an open fire until the edges crisped and blackened adding depth of flavor. This is a rustic dish, so pull the bread apart by hand, toss it into your bubbling pot and simmer until somewhat dissolved. I reserved additional toasted bread for the individual serving bowls.
If you’ve never had Roasted Tomato and Bread Soup, I liken it to having croutons or crackers in soup after they’ve soaked up the wonderful broth. Or, similar to dipping a thick piece of rustic bread into a hot bowl of tomato soup and tasting the bread as it changes texture, softens, all the while absorbing the full flavors of the soup.
Since I’m a cook with wine & drink with wine kind of girl, I used a good dry white to add some essence to the broth. My backyard oregano is truly growing wild and free, so I tossed in a little of that as well. While roasting the tomatoes isn’t necessary, the caramelization adds yet another layer of flavor and is well worth the extra step.
Finish with a drizzle of quality olive oil and serve with a salad or as a compliment to your favorite main course. Although it’s just as satisfying on its own with a glass (or two) of a full-bodied wine on a chilly evening. Buon appetito!
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Roasted Tomato and Bread Soup (Pappa al Pomodoro)
2 and 1/2 pounds of assorted seasonal tomatoes
1/2 cup of quality extra virgin olive oil, more for serving
6 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 small onions, cut into wedges or thickly sliced
Kosher salt and pepper
2 quarts of organic chicken stock (64 ounces)
1 cup of dry white wine
2 Bay Leaves
1/2 cup of fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon of oregano leaves, roughly chopped
1 loaf of rustic Italian bread (like ciabatta), more for serving
- Preheat the oven to 425 F. and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper;
- Halve the tomatoes and put them on the baking sheet, cut side up. Add the onions and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss well with 1/2 cup of olive oil, to evenly coat;
- Roast for 20-30 minutes or for as long as it takes to caramelize the onions and for the tomatoes to become soft and somewhat sticky;
- Scrape everything into a medium-sized pot and add the wine. Simmer at a low boil for 10 minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate and for the mixture to reduce somewhat. Using a food mill, fitted with a fine setting, mill the contents to remove the tomato skins and seeds and return to the pot;
- Pour in the chicken broth and the roughly chopped basil and oregano. Bring to a low boil;
- Cut the loaf of ciabatta bread in half and remove crust. Roughly tear into pieces. Add the torn bread to the simmering pot. Simmer for 10 minutes more;
- Using a wire whisk, stir the contents of the pot. The bread should have lost its shape by now and will begin to thicken the soup. It’s ok to leave the pieces somewhat intact, if a more rustic soup is preferred. For a smother soup, use a hand-held blender to blast the pieces. Soup should be thick almost bisque-like, but still fluid, and silky. Thin with more broth or a small amount of water if necessary. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Tear or slice remaining ciabatta bread and toast until lightly charred. Use a brustolina or broiler;
- Ladle soup into bowls. Add a few pieces of the extra toasted bread to each bowl. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve. Garnish with basil.
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