I saw this recipe all over the place a while back when it was the pick for Barefoot Bloggers.  At the time, I had no interest in trying it because I already have a favorite tomato soup recipe and I don’t expect anything to top it.  However, I recently wanted to try making ciabatta bread.  The bread recipe yields two loaves and this uses a whole loaf on its own, so I thought I should give it a try.  Though the bread was definitely a bust (tasted great, the crust was practically charred), this soup was a huge hit!

This is definitely different from my regular tomato soup.  It contains chunks of ciabatta as a thickener, as well as pieces of vegetables, and is not pureed.  I actually loved the chunky texture of this soup, and surprisingly I think this was even more flavorful than my standby recipe.  The taste is just on the verge of spicy, which I love.  The original recipe called for fennel, but I am not a fan so I substituted celery and it was a nice addition.  The topping consists of bacon, basil leaves and ciabatta cubes which are tossed with olive oil and roasted together.  I nearly skipped this step because I was so irritated by my bread fail, but I am so glad I went ahead and tried it.  I think the topping made this soup extra special and extra tasty.  While I still love my regular tomato soup, I think this chunkier version is now a definite favorite as well.

Pappa al Pomodoro
For the soup:
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 cup medium-diced carrots
1 cup medium-diced celery
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta bread, crusts removed
2 (28-oz.) cans Italian plum tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the topping:
3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta bread
2 oz. thickly sliced pancetta, chopped (I used turkey bacon)
24-30 whole fresh basil leaves
3 tbsp. olive oil

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic.  Cook for 10 minutes, until tender.  Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes.  Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse briefly just until coarsely chopped.  Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, salt and pepper.  Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

For the topping, preheat the oven to 375° F.  Place the ciabatta, pancetta, and basil on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss well.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20-25 minutes, until all the ingredients are crisp.  The basil leaves will turn dark and crisp.

Beat the soup with a wire whisk until the bread is broken up.  Stir in the Parmesan.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Serve hot sprinkled with the topping.

Source: adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten