Pomodora (Italian Bread Soup)

August 27, 2007

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In old Italian kitchens, pomodora was a way to use stale bread. What started as frugality, ended as a delightful soup that tastes sublimely of summer. The cup of fresh herbs is very important—don’t skimp. Use a good bakery ciabatta or French bread. Even if the bread seems hard as a rock, it will melt in the hot soup. SAM

1 1/2 pounds onions (2 large), thinly sliced
1 medium green or red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 chipotle or poblano or jalapeño pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons roasted, ground cumin
1/3 cup marsala wine
1 28-ounce can tomatoes with juice or 4 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped fresh tomatoes
2 bay leaves
3 cups water or chicken stock
1/2 pound stale crusty French or Italian bread, torn into large chunks
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped fresh herbs: sweet basil, Thai basil, oregano, thyme, and/or parsley mixed to taste
Shredded cucumber or chopped avocado
Sour cream, yogurt cheese, or crème fraîche

In a large chef’s pan over low heat, sweat onions and bell pepper in 1/4 cup oil, covered, for 15 minutes. Add the hot pepper and garlic and continue sweating until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally, about 15 more minutes. Uncover and raise the heat to medium high. Add the cumin and sauté, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the marsala and reduce, about 2 minutes. Add the bay leaves, tomatoes, water or chicken stock, bread, remaining 1/4 cup oil, salt, and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat, add the herbs, and let rest, covered, 1 to 2 hours. Remove the bay leaves and pureé with an immersion blender or food processor fitted with metal blade. Garnish with yogurt, shredded cucumber or avocado, sour cream, or crème frâiche.
Makes about 2 quarts.

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