Until our recent trip to Tuscany, I’ll admit I’d never tasted pappa al pomodoro. But this Italian bread soup is on nearly every menu in Florence. My daughter, who was studying in Florence, could not wait to introduce us to this classic Tuscan dish.
Of all the dishes she had in Italy, she says pappa al pomodoro is one of her favorites. We had to have a bowl at every restaurant we dined. When she came back, it was our mission to recreate the soup she fell in love with. Fortunately, she also took a three week cooking class as part of her curriculum, and brought back all the recipes. (As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn commission on qualifying purchases.)
What is Pappa al Pomodoro?
Pappa al pomodoro is a thick tomato and bread soup typically found in Tuscany. The consistency is quite thick, more akin to a porridge. While it’s usually served in a bowl, it’s thick enough to be served on a plate! This soup is a year-round appetizer, or “primo” (first course) in Tuscany. It is served hot, warm, room temperature, or chilled depending on the season. This recipe for pappa al pomodoro comes from the Florence University of the Arts’ culinary program. I have adapted the recipe, instructions, and measurements for the American kitchen.
A note about Tuscan bread
One of the main ingredients is of course, bread; stale bread. But it’s almost impossible to find authentic Tuscan bread in the US unless you make it yourself. Traditional Tuscan bread is unique in that it does not have salt. Not a speck. I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty bland on it’s own, but almost no one eats it that way. With salty cheese or salumi, dipped in oil, or in this recipe, it’s just perfect. Pappa al pomodoro is vegetarian and budget friendly. This was a great way to use up any leftover or stale bread. The Italians refer to this type of dish as “cucina povera”. (Read more about “Cucina Povera” here.)
What are the ingredients in Pappa al Pomodoro?
- Tuscan bread: For the bread, a rustic or artisan loaf is a good option. A sandwich loaf won’t have the same body and is too soft for this recipe. Once again, as with many seemingly simple recipes, get the best quality ingredients you can find. If you want to make your own artisan loaf, just omit the salt from this bread recipe. The bread should be stale, or a few days old. If you don’t have stale bread, simple dry it out in the oven for a few minutes.
- Tomatoes: In the summer fresh tomatoes can be used, this recipe uses canned, San Marzano DOP tomatoes. In researching other recipes, I found some use sugar. That’s because a lot of inferior canned tomatoes are highly acidic. Using a superior quality canned tomato like San Marzano DOP means you don’t have to “sweeten” the recipe.
- Fresh basil: Please use fresh basil, dried just won’t do.
- Olive oil: you’ll need some for cooking and some for drizzling. I have several bottles in my pantry depending on the use. I use a higher quality for vinaigrettes and drizzling.
- Garlic: a note on garlic; as with all recipes, the components should be perfectly balanced and harmonious. We all love garlic, but “more” isn’t necessarily “better”.
- Onion. Some recipes call for a sofrito, or onion, carrot and celery mixture, the original recipe does not use an onion, but I used a small one for extra flavor. (omit it if you choose)
- Salt and pepper. Ultimately the final word in taste is yours. Adjust seasoning to suit your or your family’s taste.
- Broth or water. The recipe from the cooking school uses water, but other recipes use broth and some recipes use neither.
How to make Pappa al Pomodoro
This recipe uses stale bread. It is a great way to use up bits of older bread. If your bread isn’t dry, trim the crusts and cube, then dry it briefly in a low oven for 10-15 minutes.
Chop the tomatoes, reserving the juice. An easy way to chop tomatoes is to use a pair of culinary shears and just snip them inside the can. It takes about 1 minute!
Over a medium heat, cook the onions until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cooking briefly to release the flavor, but do not brown it. Add the chopped tomatoes and juice, reduce heat and cook about 8 minutes until cooked through and reduced slightly.
The tomatoes will be quite thick. Puree the tomato and onion mixture using a blender, food processor or immersion blender. Return tomato mixture back to the pot. Add the dried bread cubes, and a ladleful of hot water or broth, and stir until well combined.
Continue cooking, partially covered, over a low heat, adding liquid if necessary, to keep mixture from burning. The bread will dissolve into the tomato sauce and become almost smooth. Season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Add chopped basil at the last minute.
Garnish with additional chiffonade of fresh basil, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add some red pepper flakes if desired.
Pappa al Pomodoro
- 1 small onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 28 ounce San Marzano DOP tomatoes, chopped, reserve juice
- 12 ounce stale or dry white bread, crusts removed and cubed, (see notes)
- 2 cups hot water (or vegetable broth)
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
- 6 large basil leaves chiffonade
- Kosher salt to taste
- black pepper to taste
- red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
- Chop tomatoes and reserve juice.
- In a large saucepan heat 3 Tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook until translucent and softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook briefly just to release aroma.
- Add chopped tomatoes and juice, reduce heat and cook about 8-10 minutes, until sauce has thickened.
- Using an immersion blender or food processor, blend or pulse the tomato mixture a few times until blended. Don't worry if there if there is some texture.
- Add bread cubes into the sauce, stirring until well combined. The bread will break down and dissolve. Partially cover and simmer 20 minutes, adding hot water or broth as needed, stirring occasionally. The soup will be quite thick, like porridge, so be careful not to add too much liquid.
- Season with kosher salt and pepper to taste.
- Just before serving add basil to soup. Garnish each bowl with additional basil and a drizzle of olive oil.
- This soup uses stale bread. You can either purchase a country or rustic loaf a few days before making it or cube the bread and allow it to dry out in the oven for a few minutes. It’s a great way to use up leftover or old bread.
- Don’t expect a “soup like” consistency, pappa al pomodoro is as thick as porridge!
- This is a very rich soup, so a little goes a long way. It will serve 6-8 as a starter or “primo”.
- Season with red pepper flakes if desired.