Pappa al pomodoro

When I received an email from the powers that be, asking me to do a piece for our great magazine on nothing less than pappa al pomodoro, there was only one overwhelming question: where to start?

Because pappa al pomodoro is one of a small number of definitively Tuscan dishes. In fact, it’s a landmark in Tuscan cuisine: like other recipes, it takes saltless Tuscan bread as its main ingredient and somehow manages – with the addition of a few summer vegetables and herbs – to both make the kids happy and yet satisfy the most demanding palates at the same time. The mythical Giannino Stoppani, better known as Giamburrasca, author of the most famous diary of the early twentieth century, joyously sang: “la pappa pappa, pappa,…. al pomo, pomo, pomodoro!!

Within half an hour of getting that email, I had everything on the stovetop. A nice big pan of pappa al pomodoro, bubbling away in defiance of this beastly, broiling August.

Pappa really has to be made in large quantities. You can eat it hot or cold, and can happily heat it up the next day. But it may not last that long: however much you make of it, you’ll always find willing customers.

The recipe’s simple: you just have to observe a few fundamental rules. The tomatoes you use must be very ripe, but of course not overripe. I went for two varieties of tomato – Costoluto Florentino and San Marzano – from the family vegetable garden – where else? Give them a good wash, then chop them up into fairly big chunks: add a chopped clove of garlic, a generous dose of high-quality olive oil, freshly picked basil, and simmer on the stove. Meanwhile, prepare a vegetable stock, and cut up a loaf of stale Tuscan bread into slices about 1cm thick. Toast them for about 5 minutes in the oven.

Add the boiling stock to the cooked tomato, followed by the bread. Let the whole ensemble boil for roughly 5 minutes. Then turn off the gas, cover the pan, and leave it for half an hour.

After half an hour, the bread should be lovely and soft. Take a whisk and reduce it all to a mush, then put it back on a low heat and let it simmer until it has a lovely, creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper, and a splash of olive oil. I served it to my team in the kitchen and it went down very well: a handful of ingredients, minimal human intervention, great satisfaction. I then poured the remainder into single-portion bowls and chilled it overnight, before cooking it au gratin the next day. The response was equally good. In fact, the whole pappa al pomodoro adventure was definitely the highlight of my day.

Happy August, everyone.