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Amanda Hesser's Tomato and Bread Soup

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The days of stale bread soups are here in full force, and with a glut of San Marzano tomatoes ripening swiftly on my countertops, I figured there could be no better time to prepare Amanda Hesser's version of pappa al pomodoro. Hesser used to write the Pairings column in the New York Times, which finds recipes to accompany the featured wine in the Wine of the Times column each week (this particular recipe was meant to be paired with a gruener Veltliner).

Pappa al pomodoro, like panzanella, is a perfect example of the kind of food that makes up la cucina povera. It's economical because it uses up old bread and pantry staples like broth and herbs that you don't have to look very far for or spend much money to get. This particular recipe is especially appealing because of how quick it is to prepare. The layerings of flavor (bacon, broth, herbs, tomatoes) give it a much deeper flavor than you would imagine possible after only a few minutes here and there of actual cooking time.

First, you saute some bacon in a soup pot until it's browned. The bacon goes in a small bowl, while the bacon fat gets drained off. Some olive oil is put in the pot, along with sliced onions, smashed garlic and a bit of salt. When this is good and browned, you add some sugar to caramelize the onions.
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You add the chopped tomatoes and some chicken broth to cook for a bit, then in goes the bacon and herbs (Amanda calls for fresh rosemary and oregano. I used dried, but here I have to be a bit of a pedant about something: rosemary that comes in little glass jars from the grocery is totally forgettable and tastes mostly of dust, sometimes even soapy dust. While I will not be a pompous ass and expect that you ask your mother to go to your grandfather's garden in Italy and clip rosemary from a large bush there, put it in an envelope and send it to you via aerea, I do urge you to buy fresh rosemary at the grocery store or farmer's market or wherever, and lay it in a single layer someplace cool and dry to store for future use. It is completely worth it.). Boil this for a few minutes longer, while you toast some bread.
Done
The soup gets ladled on top of the toasted bread, then the whole thing is sprinkled with grated Parmigiano. At first you'll be eating soup, but as the bread absorbs the broth, and you get further to the bottom of the plate, it will turn into more of a stew. Amanda says this recipe serves four, by the way, but I ate the whole pot divided between lunch and dinner. By myself.

Tomato and Bread Soup
Adapted from Amanda Hesser

4 thick slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch slivers
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
Salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
4 cups seeded and chopped tomatoes
1 can of chicken stock (14.5 ounces)
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
4 slices of country bread, toasted
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Spread bacon in a soup pot over medium heat, and brown. Using a slotted spoon, move bacon to a bowl. and pour off fat from pot. Return pot to heat, and sprinkle in the olive oil, onions, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Stir to coat, and cook for 10 minutes. Sprinkle in the sugar and continue cooking until onions are silky and well caramelized.

2. Add tomatoes and broth and bring to a simmer. Cook for a few minutes, then stir in bacon, oregano and rosemary. Season to taste with salt.

3. Lay a piece of toasted bread in each of the four warmed bowls. Ladle soup on top. Sprinkle with cheese, season with pepper and serve.

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