September 6, 2017
In August, tomato season begins in the PNW. Even though everyone is saying summer is over now that its September, the tomato season is not! I worked at the celebrated Café Juanita under Chef Holly Smith for around 3 years. My experience there shaped me as a cook not only professionally, but personally as well. It was at Café Juanita where I learned how to best celebrate the tomato. Every week we would get a shipment directly from a farm. Each box of tomatoes had many different colors and were so fragrant. They never saw the walk-in, but were displayed on baking sheets at room temperature. This helps to preserve the texture of the tomato. Putting them under refrigeration makes the tomato have a mealy texture. That being said, you have to use up your tomatoes before they go bad! So make this soup.
The recipe below is my best recollection of a delicious soup we would make at the restaurant called Papa al Pomodoro. This is a refreshing, light and bright soup that sings with tomato-y goodness. The toasted garlic brings out the meatiness of the tomato, which makes this soup satisfying enough for a light lunch. After doing a little Googling, I found that most Papa al Pomodoro recipes are used with canned tomatoes and the soup is actually cooked. This soup is not your traditional Papa – I would almost say it’s like an Italian version of gazpacho.
Let me know if you decide to make this soup! I hope you do, its sooo good!
Papa al Pomodoro
This recipe relies on fresh, peak of season tomatoes, and is not cooked with the exception of toasting the garlic (Which is so so important! Do not skip that step!) I made this soup this week with tomatoes still warm from the sun and it was glorious.
A note on peeling tomatoes: For peeling, I had no trouble at all removing the skin from the freshly picked warm summer tomatoes. If you are having trouble peeling the skin off, make a small “x” with a paring knife on the blossom end and put them in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds or until you can see the skin curling from the “x” you made. Then put them in a bowl of ice water (in culinary terms this is called “shocking”). Once cool, slip the skins off. Also, a note on the variety of tomatoes – the ones I used were red (most of the tomatoes I bought from the nursery were mislabeled so I have no idea what specific variety they are!). You can use any delicious, fresh tomatoes, just keep in mind that if you mix up a lot of different colors it might not be a feast for the eyes if you know what I’m sayin’.
2 cups of peeled fresh tomatoes (about 22oz or 1 1/3 pound fresh product) (see note above)
1 scant cup of torn up day-old bread pieces (crusts removed)
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
1 sprig fresh basil
Balsamic or sherry vinegar to taste (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
- Squish the tomatoes. Place tomatoes and bread pieces in a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, squish the tomatoes with the bread so that it has a rustic yet smooth consistency. You don’t want big chunks of tomato or bread. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Place bowl next to your stove.
- Toast the garlic. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the garlic until it just begins to get golden. It can quickly turn brown and bitter so as soon as it starts to get golden, pour it into the bowl of tomatoes that you set next to the stove (you didn’t skip that part, right?). Immediately stir, being careful not to slosh that hot oil.
- Taste! At this point taste the soup. You are looking for a balance of acidity, salt, and flavor of the garlic. If you think it needs anything, adjust it now. If you want more garlic, mince and cook more garlic just as you did in step 2. If you think it needs more acidity, add a tiny splash of vinegar. More salt? Add more. But just a tiny pinch! You can always add more but you can’t take out the salt once you have overdone it.
- Add fresh basil. Once the soup tastes just how you like it, its time to add some freshly torn up basil. Pick the leaves off the sprig and holding one leaf at a time, tear it into nice little pieces. Tearing the basil gives it a more pleasant flavor and texture in the soup. Give it a stir and taste. It should be amazing. If it isn’t, adjust your seasonings.
- Serve! Serve in bowls with a drizzle of your best olive oil and a few grinds of black pepper. If you are feeling indulgent, drop in a slice of burrata because life’s too short. Serve at room temperature. The soup can be made in advance and refrigerated, but allow to come up to room temperature before serving. I haven’t tried this soup hot but if you wanted to try it, let me know how it goes in the comments section!