Pappa Al Pomodoro

January 7, 2012

Margaux says…

Happy birthday, Desi! My son is 3 today, and it reminded me of this soup, which I made for his birthday party last year. This year we’re skipping a meal with the party, but I made the soup this week anyway because it was on my mind, and it is SO GOOD!!! This has got to be at least in my top 5 favorite soups, if not number 1. I saw Ina make it on Barefoot Contessa last fall, and have made it SEVERAL times since. It was in the same “bread” episode that I got this recipe, which is also pretty wonderful. Anyway, back to the soup…for one thing, it has fennel in it, which is fast becoming one of my favorite ingredients. If you haven’t tried fennel yet, you must…it adds so much flavor to things! The other awesome thing about this soup is the topping–you have to make that part, because it’s divine. If you’re making the soup vegetarian, it’s no problem, the topping will be just as good without the pancetta (although you may need to add a smidge of olive oil to make up for the lack of grease).

If you’ve never used fennel before, you chop it like you would an onion. First, you need to remove the stalks completely, then cut the bottom off, and then slice it lengthwise. Remove the outer layer, and cut out the core at the bottom. Then lay one half cut-side down on a chopping board, and slice lengthwise into 1/4″ slices. Then slice again crosswise, in about 1/4″ slices. Super easy.

If you have leftover croutons after the soup’s all been eaten up, they also taste great on salads (including the pancetta)!

Make this vegetarian by replacing the chicken broth with water, and eliminating the pancetta. Make it vegan by eliminating the parmesan, which I actually did last time I made it and it was just as delicious! I found that one large loaf of ciabatta will work for both the soup and the topping. I don’t remove all the crusts from the bread that I put in the soup, just the toughest bottom part (I have a hard time wasting all that bread!).

Pappa Al Pomodoro

from Barefoot Contessa

1/2 cup good olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
1 cup medium-diced carrots, unpeeled (3 carrots)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and medium-diced (1 1/2 cups)
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes, crusts removed
2 (28-ounce) cans good Italian plum tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (water for vegetarian)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (eliminate for vegan)

For the topping:
3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes
2 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, chopped (eliminate for vegetarian)
24 to 30 whole fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons good olive oil, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper

Directions
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until tender. Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes. Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process just until coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

For the topping, place the ciabatta cubes, pancetta, and basil on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, until all the ingredients are crisp. The basil leaves will turn dark and crisp, which is perfectly fine.

Reheat the soup, if necessary, beat with a wire whisk until the bread is broken up. Stir in the Parmesan and taste for seasoning. Serve hot sprinkled with the topping and drizzled with additional olive oil.

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