02 June 2011

AUNTIE PASTA: Viva la Pappa

SARONNO, Italy - Sometimes you just can’t keep a promise. In this case the promise was to post a blog about summer food in Italy this week. I was all set to write about butterfly pasta with zucchini and saffron, veal in tuna sauce and Tuscany’s classic tomato soup, pappa col pomodoro

Pappa col Pomodoro
But when I was checking the internet to compare my recipe for pappa with some of the recipes on the Italian cooking sites, I found the fantastic step-by-step photos you see below. Their recipe is a little different than mine, but the end results are pretty much the same.

Interestingly the site is managed by a company that sells saffron, and there is no saffron in this simple, but delicious Tuscan favorite. You can check out the website  @http://ricette.giallozafferano.it/Pappa-col-pomodoro.html

Pappa col pomodoro originated in Tuscany, specifically in the town of Sienna, and has been a Tuscan favorite since the Middle Ages. It was originally devised to make use of left over bread and the abundance of red, ripe tomatoes you find in Tuscany in the summer.  The dish became popular throughout Italy  after singer Rita Pavone recorded her hit song, Viva la Pappa col Pomodoro. The catchy tune  was an instant hit and is still one of the most popular songs ever recorded in Italian history. I doubt there is an Italian who doesn’t know the words.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqIKVEh9BPI  

While Italian food is fairly easy to prepare, most Italian recipes tend to utilize fresh ingredients rather than take shortcuts. I, on the otherhand, do - take shortcuts that is. In my humble, albit lazy opinion there really is no need to go to the bother of peeling, chopping and pressing fresh tomatoes  through a passavedura, as the recipe calls for, when I can just open a can of good quality already peeled Italian tomatoes and get excellent results.

If you are wondering what “pappa” is, it is any kind of food that is mushed up, most generally for babies but it can also be food for the infirmed and old folks who don’t have any teeth. On that appetizing note, here are the recipes.

Pappa col Pomodoro
500 g (about 1lb) of fresh ripe tomatoes
Half a round loaf of unsalted Tuscan bread or firm, rustic bread, slightly stale.
3 heads of garlic, peeled  
Bunch of fresh basil – washed, dried and torn into small pieces
About 4 cups of vegetable broth, preferably homemade
Extra virgin Italian olive oil
Salt and pepper QB ("quanto basta" is Italian for "to taste")
1/2 teaspoon sugar

(1)Cut the bread into slices and lightly toast. Let cool and then rub each slice with a piece of peeled garlic. (2) Dip the tomatoes into boiling water for one minute;

(3) Peel them and (4) push them through a passavedura. (5) Collect the juice and mashed pulp from the tomatoes in a container. (6) Layer the bread slices in a terra cotta or non-stick pot;

(7) Ladle the tomatoes over the bread slices, (8) add the vegetable broth to cover, add salt, pepper and sugar, (9) cook over low flame for 40-50 minutes, mixing the bread and tomatoes occasionally to break up the bread;

(10) When cooked, taste and add more salt if needed, and pepper to taste, (11) add the shredded basil and (12) pour into serving dishes and top with a drizzle of good quality olive oil. Serve at room temperature.  

My version of this recipe is just a little different. Besides using canned tomatoes I cut the bread into slices and then into 1/2 inch cubes and set them aside. In a terra cotta pot I lightly brown 2 cloves of garlic (which I have smashed with the side of my knife) in olive oil, and then add the torn up pieces of basil. 

Let the garlic cook for about 2 minutes then add the bread cubes, mix and let cook for a couple more minutes. Then add the tomatoes straight from the can and mix thoroughly. At this point, add the broth and salt and pepper to taste. (Prepared broth can be very salty, so be sure to taste it before adding additional salt.) 

Keep in mind that regardless of which recipe you use, tomato pappa should be very thick, not liquid. The key to making this great summer dish is the quality of the bread and tomatoes you use. If they are good, the pappa will be good, and you won't believe how delicious this simple dish will be.

Serve in soup bowls with a little olive oil drizzled over the top. This dish tastes even better if refrigerated it overnight and served the next day. Buon Appetito.

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