It often occurs to me that I get ridiculously excited about food. More than excited, over-excited like a child. It’s quite pathetic really. However, I make no apologies for getting excited about this recipe. Yesterday I came across the first lot of tomatoes I have seen this year that actually look like they might taste of more than wet cardboard. They were British, blood red and smelt like the best greenhouse you can imagine. I have a big thing about tomatoes; I refuse to buy them in the winter, as any expectation of taste is always defeated and it just upsets me buying food out of season anyway, as it always a disappointment.
Traditional Pappa Al Pomodoro is a rustic Tuscan bread and tomato soup, created to use up a glut of tomatoes and stale bread; it is thick, unctuous and made to fill you up as it comes from a traditionally poor area of Italy where, at times, there was bread and there were tomatoes, but not much else. It was important not to waste anything, so this recipe became a wonderful way of using up stale and leftover bread. As always in Italian recipes, it has many variations from household to household. It can be made to eat as a soup, or thick enough to eat from a plate, with tinned tomatoes and fresh, with onions or without.
My version is a little lighter and special enough to serve as a starter at dinner, or a light lunch. It has fewer ingredients than other recipes, but it’s packed with flavour and is very easy to make. It keeps very well, in fact, it often tastes better the day after when the flavours seem to meld and deepen. I use burrata, a type of mozzarella with cream, which is every bit as rich and delicious as it sounds. If you cannot get hold of it, buffalo mozzarella will work very well, just make sure you bring the cheese to room temperature before serving.
My version is below, but one of the wonderful things about this recipe is that you do not need to be exact; if you have more bread or more tomatoes, it doesn’t matter. Each version will taste unique. It is also important to skin the tomatoes; I know skinning tomatoes sounds like the world’s greatest waste of time, but it makes a huge difference here and really doesn’t take long. The larger the tomatoes are, the quicker and easier they are to skin. Simply cut a small cross on the bottom of each tomato and plunge into a bowl of boiling water for about 20 seconds. You should see the skin start to float away from part of the tomato. Drain, cool a little and the skin will simply slip off.
Pappa Al Pomodoro
120g stale, crustless, white bread-ciabatta is perfect, torn into chunks
500g tomatoes-the best you can find, skinned and roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
3 tbs extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tbs fresh basil, roughly torn
salt and pepper to taste
2 balls of burrata or buffalo mozzarella cheese
Place the bread in a bowl and add 150ml water. Leave the bread to soak up the water. Heat the olive oil gently in a large pan, add the garlic. Let the garlic infuse the oil, but do not let it colour. Add the tomatoes, with some salt and pepper. Allow to cook and break down a little. Take the bread and squeeze most of the water out, then add it to the pan.
Cook slowly for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture becomes like a thick, soup-like consistency. Add 1 tbs of basil. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper if needed. Take off the heat and leave to stand.
Place half a ball of burrata per person on a plate-it looks better if it torn rather than sliced. You can serve the pappa al pomodoro at room temperature, but I prefer to serve it warm, so it begins to melt the cheese into an unctuous goo. Sprinkle the remainder of the basil over each plate and drizzle a little olive oil.
Serve with fresh ciabatta and a rocket salad.