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When "Pappa" isn't "The Pope"

We are in wedding fever mode at the moment. We are on a roll and nothing can stop us now. I can keep spewing sayings but I think I'd rather carry on with my blog post.

The past week has been little wedding jobs galore. We have a table plan, which means we have a pretty final guest list. We have put together the Order of Service and this week's job is sending it to various people for proof-reading. Many, many different aspects of proof-reading. Exciting times.

With all the wedding planning, I'm looking more and more forward to going back to Tuscany and eating my favourite summer food. Of course I am, I'm human and an Italophile and I love the fresh Mediterranean produce. Ugh can I sound more pretentious? But you can't tell me you don't like tomatoes after eating an Italian grown tomato. I mean, whether it's the soil or the water, it's just amazing.

When I first started volunteering at the Convento, I was warned: Loretta does not like unnecessary people in her kitchen. If you're in there, it's to do a job or else she will tell you (in no uncertain terms) to get lost. Apparently I was the exception to the rule. When my Italian got better, I asked her about her food. I asked why she used red wine instead of white wine for things, why she blitzed up her veg for her ragu, why she used to cut onions holding them in her hand and never using a chopping board - I'm still none the wiser on that one. And she helped me with my Italian too. She was one of three people who would correct me when I made mistakes. The fact that she couldn't speak English but could understand what I was trying to say just shows how much effort she was willing to make with me.

So anyway, if I had a spare half hour to my morning, I would set the table for lunch and get to the washing up... pretending I was "doing my job" until she called me over to show me what she was making. I remember one day after a week of having a big group come to stay, we had a lot of leftover bread and a lot of it was stale. She said, "it's ok, we'll make pappa. The tomatoes are still good".

I looked at her like she had three heads. "Papa" is the Italian word for "Pope", as opposed to "Pappa' " with the emphasis on the last 'a' which means "father". To my mind she said that we were going to make the Pope. I thought, 'hmm, maybe this is a very Roman dish... or popular with Popes'. No, that's just the name of it. And it's very Tuscan.

Pappa al Pomodoro is very much what the Italians will call "peasant food" - cheap to make in days of old and easy to find the produce as well as being filling. Loretta is now in her late 70s and not very well so this is my way of saying, "Thank you for teaching me and letting me watch you work. Mi hai insegnato tantissimo".

Loretta's Pappa al Pomodoro

  • 4 large cloves of garlic, minced

  • 1 large red chilli, finely chopped

  • 1 while onion, diced

  • 4 large beef tomatoes, halved then quartered

  • 500g chunks of bread (stale if possible)

  • 750ml - 1L vegetable stock

  • 2 tbsp olive oil

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Grated parmesan cheese to serve

This recipe will serve at least 4 people.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil then add the onion and garlic. Fry them off until soft, do not burn them or it will taste bitter. Add the chilli and cook it off.

Add the chopped tomatoes. Slightly lower the heat and put the lid on the pot. Keep the lid on for about 10 minutes. If your pot is prone to sticking, stir everything around every couple of minutes or so. You want the tomatoes to go all liquidy and mushy so that they are nowhere near firm.

Stir in the bread and add the vegetable stock. Add 750ml at first and simmer for 10 minutes. If you would like more liquid, add the remaining stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Take the pot off the heat and stir in the basil.

Serve parmesan to your guests/family with this and have a bottle of extra virgin olive oil or chilli oil on hand to drizzle over the top.


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