It is, I will admit, a little late in the season to feature a tomato and basil dish. Tomatoes are at the end of their harvest, and most of the basil has flowered and taken on the stronger anise notes of maturity. But I was still able to get a pint of beautiful local multicolored cherry tomatoes for a pretty cheap price. So why not cling to those last vestiges of summer produce while they are still available? Beside all of that, I’m nursing a nasty cold right now and I’ve found myself in need of some comfort food. And this dish is comfort food at its best. I had not heard of pappa al pomodoro before I lived in Italy. Even though most Americans have not grown up with this Tuscan classic, after eating a few bites you might feel like you’ve been eating this your whole life. It is one of those gems of northern Italian cuisine: simply prepared, economical and satisfying.
My version uses cherry tomatoes (which are not exactly traditional), but cooking them for a few minutes breaks them down and you are spared the additional tasks of chopping and seeding. I find it is much easier to obtain consistently tasty cherry tomatoes rather than, say, plum tomatoes. If you happen to have other tomatoes on hand, you can certainly use them for this dish. If you are using larger tomatoes and want to be fussy (as I often do), you can scoop out the seeds and coarsely chop the meat of the tomato.
1 large clove of garlic, finely minced
1/2 red onion, diced
A small handful of basil leaves, snipped into strands
2 c. stale bread pieces
2 c. cherry tomatoes
1 1/2c. broth (vegetable or chicken)
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
Cook the Vegetables: Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, cook for a minute and then add the garlic. Cook until the onions are starting to look translucent. Add the whole tomatoes and chopped basil. Cook for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to break up the tomatoes.
Cook the Bread: Once the tomatoes have broken down, toss in the broth and return the mixture to a boil. Add the bread. Cook, stirring frequently, for another five minutes or so until the bread has broken down and the mixture has thickened.
Season & Serve : Add salt and pepper to taste (remember that the parmesan cheese is also salty). Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh black pepper, a few fresh basil leaves and parmesan cheese shavings. This dish can be eaten hot, tepid or cold.