If we take the time to listen to the stories of survival during hard times told by our grandparents and great-grandparents, we can understand the genesis of many of the dishes we now consider traditional. Pappa pomodoro is a case in point. There are hundreds of ways to make this soup. The primary ingredients are tomatoes and stale bread cooked until paplike (hence the word pappa). I raise the level of this so-called peasant food with careful seasoning and by finishing it with green, fruity olive oil and rich, salty cheese.
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.
Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf and red pepper and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, or until softened.
Add the tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes begin to soften and break down.
Put the bread slices in a bowl and cover with the stock.
The bread will absorb much of the liquid right away.
Transfer the bread and any liquid in the bowl to the sauté pan.
Return to a simmer and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until the bread has absorbed as much liquid as possible and is the consistency of soft baby food.
Stir in the basil, 3 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil and salt and black pepper to taste.
Cook the soup at a simmer for about 10 minutes to develop the flavors.
Stir the butter into the hot soup; when it’s incorporated, ladle the soup into 4 shallow soup bowls.
Garnish each serving with cheese and a drizzle of the remaining olive oil.