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pappa al pomodoro

February 17, 2010

Given the snow days DC has seen, I – and I think I speak for everyone at LS here – have had nothing but time to cook. I’ve made empanadas (more on those later) and lemon bars (probably not more on those, as they didn’t work). I’ve made pomegranate-glazed chicken livers and balsamic braised Brussels sprouts. I have seriously contemplated the making of that brioche, although I haven’t actually done it. A girl has to have some time for watching Comcast On Demand built into her snow day.

On most days, however, I don’t have this kind of time. Which is why I make pappa al pomodoro at least once a week.

You’re probably looking at the picture above and saying to yourself, “Hillary, that looks like a bowl of red mush.” Well, imagine what a photograph of it would have looked like. I hate to break it to you, but that’s essentially what pappa is. It sounds like “pap” for a reason; decorously, one could refer to it as a “bread soup,” but all it really consists of is stale bread crumbled into homemade tomato sauce and stirred until it becomes a thick, tangy porridge. Tangy + porridge: there are two words everyone loves to see together.

Nonetheless, pappa al pomodoro has a lot going for it: it’s delicious, fast, easy, and extremely cheap. It also provides justification for buying baguettes one may not be able to finish before they go stale. And it’s totally worth making, even if you have the time for something fancier. Because after you try it, you may want it regardless of how much snow is on the ground.

Pappa al Pomodoro sounds nicer than “bread tomato mush”

Serves 1-2

  • 16 oz can whole tomatoes (not Italian or Mexican or anything like that. Just tomatoes. I find whole tomatoes to have a better flavor than chopped or crushed, and I also like this chunky)
  • olive oil
  • fresh basil if you can get it
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • 1/3 loaf stale French bread
  • capers and olives to taste (I like this sort of thing but I know not everyone does)
  • Parmesan or Asiago to grate on top

Pour a little olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. While the oil is heating, crush two cloves of garlic and open the can of tomatoes. Add the garlic to the pan. When it starts to turn brown, add the can of tomatoes (undrained) and a solid dose of salt and pepper. Break up the tomatoes with a spatula or (my favorite) a good pair of kitchen scissors – you want the tomatoes to be no bigger than a good-sized gumball. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add your capers, olives, and red pepper flakes. Let the sauce cook down.

While this is simmering, take your bread and crush it into chunks. There are several ways to do this. My preferred method involves putting stale crusts in two freezer bags, squeezing out the air, putting on your shoes, and stomping on them. In addition to being a terrific anger management technique, this has the added benefit of being by far the fastest and most efficient method of destroying your bread. When the largest piece is about the size of a gumball, set the bread aside.

Check on your sauce; if it looks like it’s a fairly unified substance (a chunky sauce is okay; chunks floating in liquid the consistency of milk are not), you can add the bread. Stir it in and watch it soak up the liquid. When it’s roughly the consistency of a thick porridge, take it off the heat. Serve topped with fresh basil (if you have it) and shredded Parmesan or Asiago.

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