It feels like summer in Boston.
We're still a week and a half away from calendar summer, and it won't really start to heat up for another month or so, but the mood of summer has already set in. Most of the college students have left town. The city feels quieter, a little slower.
Now I want summer food. The farmers' markets are starting again, and they've got all sorts of lovely spring produce, but my mind has moved right past green garlic and radishes to fixate on heirloom tomatoes. Unfortunately, there won't be any heirloom tomatoes for at least another month, so my dreams of eating insalata caprese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner will have to wait.
Still, a tomato craving is a tomato craving, and it can be satisfied before tomato season with a little creative thinking. My local supermarket has fairly decent cherry tomatoes on the vine. Some time in the oven with herbs, garlic, and olive oil will improve their flavor. And then they can be stewed with stale bread to make pappa al pomodoro.
A classic Tuscan summer dish, pappa al pomodoro is somewhere between a stew and a porridge. Like ribollita, it's a way of giving new life to stale bread. It's completely unglamorous, with all the visual appeal of regurgitated pizza, but it's full of rich tomato flavor, and it only gets better after a day in the fridge.
It's one of my favorite summer tomato dishes. At least until the heirlooms arrive.
Roasted Tomato Pappa Al Pomodoro
Like all stews, this one tastes better the next day. It really is good cold for breakfast.
(Serves one, with leftovers to eat cold for breakfast.)
Preheat the oven to 325F.
Take a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, give them a rinse if necessary, and put them in a non-reactive baking dish. Throw in two or three peeled garlic cloves, a sprig or two of fresh basil or oregano, and drizzle generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with a little coarse salt.
Put the baking dish in the oven and go do something else for two hours. When you come back, the tomatoes should look wrinkly and soft. (If not, give them another half-hour.) Remove the baking dish from the oven.
Transfer the tomatoes and all the liquid in the baking dish to a small saucepan with lid. Add two cups of water, and bring to a simmer.
Cut a large chunk of stale crusty bread (two or three slices' worth) into rough cubes, and drop them into the tomato mixture. Give everything a stir, and put the lid on the pot. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for thirty or forty minutes. (The mixture should be a little soupy; add more water as necessary.) Check for salt; season to taste. Allow to cool for five to ten minutes before serving.
Serve in a big bowl with a little more olive oil drizzled on top.