Pappa al Pomodoro or Panata Dolce



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Here, I hope, will be helpful advice for cooks in Colorado who do not own or care for ducks. Now some recipes for using stale bread.

Many cultures and cuisines make do with leftover bread. It’s a smart move, not just a frugal one. Leftover bread adds a lot of flavor and considerable weight to the foods it is baked with. And it’s a better stretcher than most other products out there. Without it, we would have much less gazpacho, migas (the delicious Spanish dish of vegetables and sausages), romesco sauce or good meatloaf.

This is the basis for “pain perdu” (“lost bread”), the original French name for what we call “lost bread”. Without it, there would be no American Bread Pudding, Apple Brown Betty, or even Thanksgiving Dinner Stuffing, all of which make good use of stale bread.

But, to my palate, nobody beats an Italian (especially a Tuscan) for cooking with leftover bread that’s been several days old. What elevates summer panzanella – fresh chopped tomato, onion, olive oil and basil – besides the bread? There’s no gut heat for a ribollita — this twice-cooked Tuscan stew of black cabbage, beans and other vegetables — without its stale crusts.

You’ll find pappa al pomodoro cooked all over Italy; maybe, just maybe, Tuscany is the best. The recipe here is for winter consumption as it uses the best canned or jarred tomatoes you can find.

“Pappa” is Italian for “pap”, as in a child’s porridge or pabulum. The word aptly describes the texture; the finished dish would benefit from the crunch of a crouton or six.

In his book “Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well”, Pellegrino Artusi writes a recipe for what he calls “panata”, a mixture of leftover breadcrumbs, eggs, nutmeg, broth and hazelnut cheese. Reading it, I couldn’t help but think it was some kind of dessert, so I changed the recipe’s original water or broth to hot milk, added some honey, and finished with soft butter toppings.

The ample Parmigiano-Reggiano makes for a sweet and savory dessert, if you like that genre. Use ricotta or mascarpone instead if your sweet tooth is up to dessert. Just pay attention to the texture that goes into the pot: sloshy, not like batter.

Artusi’s recipe calls for “shredding” stale bread pieces. It didn’t have the happy pulse of a food processor. We do.


Pieces of stale bread and tomatoes make a warming Pappa al Pomodoro. (Bill St. John, Denver Post special)

Pomodoro Dad

Adapted from cooking.nytimes.com, seriouseats.com and foodandwine.com. For 4 people as a main dish, 6 to 8 people as a side dish.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped small
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered or minced
  • 1/4 to 3/8 teaspoon dried chili flakes, to taste
  • 1 28-ounce jar or can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 4 large or 6 medium basil leaves, stemmed and roughly torn
  • 4 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
  • 12 ounces stale bread, torn small or cubed (about 4 cups lightly packed)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth or water
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Additional basil leaves, chiffonade, for garnish
  • Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

directions

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, over medium heat, heat the oil and cook the chopped onions, covered, stirring a few times, until translucent, about 6-7 minutes. Raise the heat slightly, add the garlic and chili flakes, stirring, and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 90 seconds longer.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them well with your hands as you go or with a potato masher against the bottom of the pan, then the torn basil leaves, tomato puree and honey. Stir everything well and continue to mash the tomatoes until they are mushy. Cook for 3-4 minutes until heated through.

Add the bread pieces and toss to coat. Add the broth (or water), bring to a boil and simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally and mashing again, if necessary, until the pappa resembles flour well-cooked oats. Ok for salt and black pepper (you may need a fair amount of salt, especially if serving at room temperature or cooler).

Serve hot, warm or even cooler, garnished with basil chiffonade and drizzles of olive oil.


Panata Dolce picked from its pot. (Bill St. John, Denver Post special)

Panata Dolce

Adapted from Pellegrino Artusi, “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well,” (University of Toronto Press, 2003). For 3-4 people.

Ingredients

  • 4.5 ounces (1 heaping cup) stale bread, grated
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 ounces (2/3 cup) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons of honey
  • 1-2 cups warmed whole milk, depending on the dryness of the bread

directions

Mix everything except the milk, then stir in the milk until you get a porridge that is lighter than pancake batter but thicker than cream. Let the mixture sit for 1/2 hour to thicken slightly (as the bread begins to absorb the eggs and milk). If it is firmer than pancake batter, add a little more warmed milk. What cooks next should be about as dense as pre-whipped heavy cream.

Prepare a bain-marie with simmering water or make one in a large, low saucepan 1/3 filled with simmering water that a medium to large saucepan fits easily into. Pour the panata mixture into the top of the double boiler or saucepan and let the mixture begin to thicken over the heat, stirring occasionally.

Once it begins to harden noticeably, about 5 minutes later, use a wooden or silicone spatula to gently but frequently pick it up in the center, scraping the baked part from the bottom and sides, rolling it up the center. Don’t let it stiffen into a solid mass or break it up too much, as with scrambled egg curds.

Serve the panata by making a cut in each portion and filling it with a small knob of unsalted butter at room temperature.

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