Lidia Bastianich is one of my favorite professional chefs, specializing in Italian and Italian-American cuisine; I’ve used a number of her recipes for inspiration. She’s the author of eight cookbooks, five of which are accompanied by a national series on Public Television. Her style of cooking is fresh, authentic Italian; based heavily on family traditions. In an interview, Lidia expressed her opinion on food and family:
‘Food for me was a connecting link to my grandmother, to my childhood, to my past. And what I found out is that for everybody, food is a connector to their roots, to their past in different ways. It gives you security; it gives you a profile of who you are, where you come from.’
The lovely dish I made today, Tomato and Bread Soup, is a bright summer meal; the tomatoes and basil bursting with flavor, and the bread adding a hearty texture. I made this with canned San Marzano tomatoes, but I will definitely try it later in the summer when tomatoes are at peak season. I also left the crusts on the Italian bread, as I like some of the bread to stay in small chunks. If you’d prefer the bread to completely disintegrate, remove the crusts before adding to the soup.
I adapted this recipe from ‘Lidia’s Favorite Recipes’. This is a great cookbook to start with if you don’t have one of her cookbooks and want to try some wonderful Italian dishes.
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced Vidalia onion
6 cloves of garlic, smashed
Three 28-oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes
2 cups vegetable broth
Five 1/2 inch thick slices of stale Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
10 fresh basil leaves, washed
Freshly grated Parmigiana-Reggiano
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a deep, heavy pot. Add the diced onion and cook until it starts to wilt, approximately 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until golden, about 6 minutes. Crush the tomatoes with your hands in a large bowl, or with a food mill. If you’re crushing with your hands, be careful – some of them burst with juice when crushed.
Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pot. Add the vegetable broth and bring everything to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the tomatoes have boiled for 10 minutes, season with salt and pepper. Add the bread and basil leaves to the pot and bring it back to a boil. Drop the heat so the soup is still simmering, low to medium-low. Simmer uncovered, whisking occasionally to break up the pieces of bread. The soup will be silky and dense after about 40 minutes.
Season the soup to taste with additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve in warm bowls, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Provide grated parmigiana-reggiano on the side. Enjoy!
Makes about 2 quarts; serves 8.
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