It’s the first day of Fall and here’s the perfect dish – pappa al pomodoro. And it’s simple to make. Tomatoes are still abundant, tasty and fresh and the frost has not bitten the basil yet.
While you are at it – make a couple of extra pints to freeze for the dark days ahead. You’ll be glad you did one cold dreary January evening.You know you can’t get anything that’s tastes like a real tomato out of season. And if you’re planning to make this later set the bread out to get stale in preparation now.
1 cup good olive oil
2 medium onions sliced fine
8-16 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 crushed dried red chili pepper, 2 if you like more heat
2 lbs of ripe tomatoes. Peel* if preferred. Chopped.
4 tablespoons tomato paste (optional if you don’t want to used tomato products from a can or if you don’t have homemade. Will be much less rich without of course so maybe cook up some paste to add density of flavor and texture )
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
10-20 leaves of basil
8 cups of vegetable stock (always best to make your own ** but if store-bought check the sodium – so many are just overloaded with salt)
salt and pepper to taste
1lb plus of two-day old stale bread torn into small chunks
Heat the oil in a deep pan or dutch oven. Saute the onion until its soft but not brown. Add the sugar if using and gently cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic and chile pepper. Cook for another five minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and basil. Cook for 10-15 minutes. Add the stock and the seasoning. Bring to the boil and add the bread. Simmer for 40 minutes over a low heat. Stir occasionally. Give it a good stir before serving. Add some olive oil if you want. Take off the heat. Serve warm garnished with basil leaves.
* Easy way to peel tomatoes: Roll them around in a little boiling water a few seconds until the skin begins to split.
And whole tomatoes are easy to freeze. Just wash and put in freezer bags. Take them out in the winter for a reminder of the warmth and taste of summer. Hold them under the tap for a few seconds and the skin slides right off.
** Basic vegetable stock: Onions (3), celery (3 stalks), carrots (2), thyme, garlic(4 cloves), bay leaves. A little olive oil. Lots of water (3 quarts). Saute onions until soft. Throw in the garlic. Add other ingredients. Simmer until reduced by at least a third. Strain. Use what you need. Freeze the rest. Optional extras: leek, mushrooms, bell peppers, parsley, scallions, fennel, fennel seeds – basically whatever you have and like the taste of.