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Tomato and Bread Soup

Like panzanella (bread salad), this soup is a creative way the frugal Tuscans use up scraps of day-old bread. Most Italian cooks feel that many foods, including most soups, taste best when they are neither too hot nor too cold. Moderate temperatures don't shock the taste buds and allow all of the flavors to come through. This soup tastes good at any temperature, fresh off the stove, at room temperature or in between.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tender celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 lb. fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and
      chopped
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 slices day-old coarse country bread, crusts
      removed, torn into small pieces (about
      2 cups)
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:

In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm 2 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the onion and celery and sauté until tender, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes and water and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.

Pass the contents of the saucepan through a food mill placed over a bowl, or puree it in batches in a blender or food processor. Return it to the pan. Add the bread, basil, salt and pepper. Cook until the bread is soft, about 10 minutes more. Stir in a little more water if the soup becomes too thick.

Serve hot, warm or at room temperature ladled into bowls. Divide the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil among the servings, drizzling over the top.
Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Italy, by Michele Scicolone (Time-Life Books, 1999).