Even those who are more flexible and comfortable eating vegetarian food out will find Florence and Tuscany problematic: first of all because most dishes are meat-based (Tuscans are very proud of their beef, the world-famous “Chianina” breed); secondly, because the “vegetarian” dishes, like the ribollita soup, are often given a flavor boost by the addition of a prosciutto bone in the cooking! Don’t despair – you can make most Tuscan recipes in your own kitchen! Let’s start with this very easy and delicious soup: a perfect example of Italian “comfort food”, and of Tuscan peasant cooking. Bread soups were born of necessity: people could not afford to throw away stale bread, and devised ways to make it not only edible, but wonderfully tasty. Be warned that American-style soft sliced bread would just turn into a slimy and sticky mess: you will need artisanal bread with a firm, rough crust. The best types are Tuscan or Pugliese loaves. I live in Manhattan, and my favorite (kosher) bread is made by Tribeca Oven.
If you visit Florence, don’t miss my friend Chiara’s kosher cooking classes! You can emal her at [email protected]
- 2 tablespoons cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 large can (12 oz.) peeled whole tomatoes (I like Italian tomatoes, San Marzano type)
- ½ medium loaf, or 1/3 large loaf of Italian-style bread, 2-day old
- 1 cup water or vegetable stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A pinch of sugar
- 10 to 15 fresh basil leaves
Slice the bread. In a heavy pot, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the garlic. After a couple of minutes discard the garlic, and add the can of tomatoes, breaking them with your hands into the pot. Add salt, pepper, sugar and water, and stir with a wooden spoon. Shred the bread into bite-sized chunks with your hands (if it’s too hard/dry cut it into cubes with a bread knife), and add them to the pot. Do not stir too aggressively, because you don’t want the bread to melt into the water completely: the texture should be somewhat chunky. You should stir gently using an upward motion, and not too long. Cook on low heat for about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Shred the basil leaves and add them to the soup; drizzle with more olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per person), lightly toss, serve. This soup tastes even better reheated: it will be so thick that you will be able to eat it with a fork. Enjoy!