This is one of those recipes that satisfies my inner Mary Poppins, making something beautiful and hearty of pantry staples and stale bread. Traditionally, Pappa al Pomodoro is made with fresh tomatoes, but I prefer to eat this kind of “stick to your ribs” meal in the dead of winter over peak tomato season. In place of fresh tomatoes, I use really high quality canned San Marzano tomatoes, which I can find at most markets these days. If your carbo-load meter is going off, take a closer look before writing this one off. The entire 6 servings of soup only requires one loosely packed cup of bread. Because it expands in the liquid, the bread creates a soft, pillowy base for the soup, but in reality, you’re mostly eating a hearty a bowl of tomatoes, white beans, and broth.
While this basic recipe makes for a more than satisfying meal on its own, there is room for interpretation. If you want to add meat to the mix, add some browned sausage to the recipe. Or, if you’re looking to pack some more greens into your meal, finely shredded lacinato kale would be a beautiful addition.
- 1 1/2 medium yellow onions
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 3 garlic cloves, roughly sliced
- ¼ tsp chile flake (or more if your chile is mild, mine are spicy)
- 42 oz can whole peeled tomatoes (1 ½ 28 oz cans)
- 2 1/2 cups chicken or veggie broth
- 1 cup stale bread, cut/torn into 1”-2” chunks
- 1 ¼ cups cooked cannellini beans
- 2 cups basil, densely packed, stems removed and roughly torn
- Very high quality balsamic vinegar
- Parmesan cheese (optional)
In a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and salt, and sweat for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally until translucent and soft. Add garlic, chile flake, and paprika, and sauté for 2-3 minutes. If the garlic starts to brown, add a splash of water.
Add tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer on low for an hour. Stir occasionally, breaking up large pieces of tomato (I like to smash them with a wooden spoon against the side of the pot, and chop them up right in the pot using kitchen scissors). It should remain loose and soupy. Add a splash of water or broth if it starts to thicken to a sauce consistency.
While the soup is cooking, place bread on a sheet tray, drizzle generously with olive oil and toast until golden brown. Add the toasted bread to the soup, leaving a few small bits behind for garnish (you can roughly chop those reserved croutons into a course breadcrumb size). Add half the torn basil and the cannellini beans to the pot. Turn the stove off and let the bread soak up the liquid for a minute.
To serve, ladle the soup into individual bowls, top with some crunchy breadcrumbs, a drizzle of olive oil, torn basil, a drizzle of balsamic, and grated parmesan cheese.