Thursday, September 7, 2006

Pappa al Pomodoro, The Last Gasp of Tomato Season

On a gorgeous fall day recently I was invited to a harvest lunch at Castello di Potentino which dates back to 1402 and is beautifully situated in the Montecucco wine region in the Province of Grosseto. The area has a wonderful micro climate which is responsible for its elegant wines and olive oil. Our hosts Sally Green and Sally Horton, a mother and daughter, were busy in the kitchen preparing Pappa al Pomodoro, a dish I do not ordinarily look forward to because restaurants do it so badly. To be done right, as it was here, it should be made in big batches at the height of tomato season, and it should be served at the right temperature-- lukewarm, neither room temperature nor cold. The other secret to the dish is that you must drizzle the best extra virgin olive oil you can find over it and then accompany it with a Sangiovese wine like Castello di Potentino’s 2003 Sacromonte Montecucco Rosso. This is a magnificent wine with expressive fruit and great acidity. It is not yet imported to the States, but you can be sure I am working on that.

It was harvest week and the Woofers, (willing workers on organic farms) who live and work on the property to acquire experience were coming in from the vineyards for lunch. An old friend of the family, Cesare, who was helping to cook, was busy giving the finishing touches to the table. After lunch he gave me this recipe:

You start off sautéing very coarsely chopped onions, carrots, celery, celery leaves, and garlic in a good amount of olive oil until slightly soft. I loved the fact that these ingredients were left quite chunky. Meanwhile peel and chop ripe tomatoes and add to the soffritto, seeds and all and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper. Cut day old bread into 1-inch cubes and have that ready. They used a local bread with a great sourdough bite which I think made all the difference. Right before serving, turn off the heat and add the bread, roughly chopped basil, and serve. The art of the dish is the right amount of bread. The texture should be firm not runny. Next weekend I am planning to make this for a group of friends and serve some wine I brought back with me from the vineyard.

So while tomatoes are at their best for a few more weeks and the weather is still wonderful, I suggest you do the same. I know you won’t be disappointed.

Castello Di Potentino


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