The first September rain in Athens was marked by torrential downpour. It was punctuated with claps of rumbling thunder and sudden bursts of lightening. Very dramatic! I was told that this time of year, it is difficult to predict the weather – sudden meteorological changes are common and programmes for outdoor events must always be accompanied by a Plan B. Despite the potential disruption to our own pending events, it was a welcome change from very hot to cooler weather. Summer, indeed, was coming to a close. Also it brought home to me that the last of the tasty tomatoes ripened under the hot summer sun were also near an end.
On that first cool rainy end-of-summer day, I made one of my favourite seasonal soups from the River Cafe Cookbook by Ruth Rogers and Rose Grey, the book under review by The Cookbook Guru for the months of September and October. It relies on those sun ripened tomatoes.
Pappa al Pomodoro
So simple. It relies on prime ingredients. However, the recipe in The River Cafe Cookbook is designed to serve 10 – more restaurant proportions. Here I have cut the quantities down so that it serves 2 as a main meal or 4 as a starter. I have also altered the prep a bit (i.e. not seeding the tomatoes and not cutting the crust from the bread) and added optional grated Parmesan at the end.
- 4 Tablespoons + extra olive oil (the greener the better)
- 1 kilo ripe summer tomatoes
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves
- 200ml water
- salt and pepper
- the end of a week old sourdough bread loaf (approximately 8 to 9g)
- bunch of basil
- Parmesan cheese (optional)
First, remove the skin from the tomatoes. To do this, first bring a pot of water to a boil – with enough water to cover the tomatoes. Then cut around the core and score a cross in the bottom of the tomato. Turn the pot of water off the heat and place the tomatoes in it for a few minutes, until the skin begins to come away.
Carefully remove the hot tomatoes from the water, one at a time. The skins should peel away easily, using a paring knife. You can save the “waste” – the skins and cores. I was recently intrigued by methods to use the normally discarded cores and skins to make sauce or to dry to make a tomato powder. Roughly cut the tomatoes and put into a bowl.
Meanwhile, heat the 4 Tablespoons of oil in a large pot. Chop the garlic and fry this in the oil until it just begins to turn colour. Be vigilant as garlic can burn quite quickly once it has browned. Add the chopped tomatoes and turn down the heat. Let this simmer for about 30 minutes to concentrate the tomatoes.
Meanwhile rip the bread into pieces. Add the water to the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat up slightly and when it has begun to bubble, add the bread. You may need to adjust the consistency by adding a bit more water as the bread absorbs the liquid. The soup should, however, not be too liquid. Turn off the heat and add the chopped/shredded basil. Naturally, I used the smaller (and more pungent) Greek basil, but I expect they use the sweet large leaf Italian basil at River Cafe.
Stir and let it sit for a few minutes before serving – drizzled with more olive oil and optionally sprinkled with grated Parmesan.