Tuscan pappa al pomodoro with Emma's sourdough

Matt Clarke pappa al pomodoro

Matt lends a hand

Topsham, Devon, 18th May 2011 Thanks to all who came to last night’s May Vino Kitchen Italian Table. We are lucky to attract some really nice, friendly and appreciative people to our once-a-month “pop-up” evenings and this makes it all worth while. The buzz in the cellar is terrific as everyone sits together at the trestle tables, friends, new friends, everyone mixing in and enjoying themselves, all over plates of our food washed down with the genuine and authentic Italian wines that we bring to Topsham.

Last night’s menu was a taste of Tuscany. The Tuscan cucina is foremost one of simplicity that demands the finest ingredients, prepared with care but without undue fuss. Its essential rusticity suits our style of cooking. Bread and oil are fundamentals and are used in any number of classic and typical dishes. Tuscan bread is most notable because it is saltless; equally fundamental is a texture that is dense, chewy and resistant. A loaf will last for a number of days, and even once stale, it can be transformed into classic dishes such as panzanella – a sort of bread salad made with summer vegetables; ribollita, a left-over ‘recooked’ minestrone that is padded out with the delicious addition of stale Tuscan bread; and pappa al pomodoro – another ‘bread soup’ that is thick, almost solid, made with tomatoes, basil, bread, exquisite Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil, and nothing much else.

We made pappa al pomodoro for last night’s Italian Table. The key to successfully making this traditional classic outside of Tuscany is always the quality and consistency of the bread.  Emma Parkin used to bring her breads to the Topsham Slow Food Market when we ran it in Matthews Hall and we have long been fans of her sourdough. Now that she has moved her bakery to the newly opened Real Food Store in Exeter, we can get her wonderful breads on a regular basis. Emma’s sourdough, though salted, chewier and more sour in flavour than Tuscan bread, has a consistency that works particularly well in the recreation of Tuscan bread dishes such as pappa al pomodoro. But remember, the bread needs to be at least 3 days old.

Emma's sourdough

Emma's sourdough, sliced and torn into small pieces

Last night’s Vino Kitchen was particularly enjoyable for us as we had a fun team on hand to help. Many thanks to James Clark, head chef at The Globe, who made a terrific pudding with Kim; Matt Clark; Phil ‘The Bull’; and Bella. And of course to Geoff and Anna for providing such a wonderful and congenial venue for our evenings.

Pappa al pomodoro
Serves 8 as a starter

pappa al pomodoro

Pappa al pomodoro

500g loaf Emma’s sourdough, at least 3 days old
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 stalks of celery, finely chopped
½ chilli pepper, seeded and finely chopped
4 tins of best quality chopped Italian tomatoes
500ml vegetable stock
500g really flavourful cherry tomatoes or tomatoes on the vine, chopped, lightly salted and soaked in Tuscan olive oil
Large handful of fresh basil
Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil (we use Badia di Morrona)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice the bread as thinly as you can, then tear into small pieces, the smaller the better. Place in a large bowl and leave for 4 hours or overnight, turning the bread from time to time so that it goes evenly stale.

In a large casserole or pot, heat up some extra-virgin olive oil and gently sautée the finely chopped onion, garlic, celery and chilli until soft. Add the tins of chopped tomatoes and thin down with some of the vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes. Tear up lots of basil and add this to the mixture at the end.

In another pot, add a few ladles of the tomato soup, then a layer of the bread pieces. Drizzle the bread with Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil. Add a few more ladles of the soup to cover the bread, and then another layer of bread drizzled with oil. Continue until all the bread and soup is used up. If it is too solid then thin it down with some of the vegetable stock or with water. Add more basil and the uncooked, chopped tomatoes soaked in oil. Leave for an hour  or two then mix well with a wooden spoon.

Pappa al pomodoro can be served lukewarm, tepid or hot. We like it best at room temperature. Serve in bowls with a drizzle of Tuscan oil on the top and a basil leaf to garnish.

Recommended wine: Felciao Vermentino Badia di Morrona 2009 Pappa al pomodoro is a summer dish that calls from a bright, fresh summer wine, such as Felciao, a zesty, fresh Vermentino produced from grapes grown in the province of Pisa. Available from Vino.


Vino Kitchen

Real Food Store

Emma's Bread

James Clark - The Globe

Badia di Morrona

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