As a surprise for my birthday a few years ago, my husband and I, as the saying goes, traveled back to the old country! After a long and exhausting flight we finally reached our destination, a small town called Pozzallo on the Mediterranean in Sicily. The warm ocean breeze welcomed us as we tried to take in all of the scenery with one swoop of an eye.
It’s very early in the morning and the little town is just coming to life. The second floor shutters begin to fly open as they hear the farmers clanking down the street, in small open carts carrying the just-picked sweet vegetables, fresh bread and homemade creamy ricotta that had been prepared for the day’s meals. But the tomatoes … I have never seen more perfect, juicy red gems! Not where I live! They were just picked and still warm from the sun. I wanted to just eat one right there on the street. The women begin lowering their wicker baskets, which are tied to a long rope, to reach the farmer on the cobblestone street below. He placed his goods in the basket, and up they go! I couldn’t believe it!
We were guests of a family who lives in the little shore town of Pozzallo, so we sampled the best this region had to offer. From scrumptious homemade pastas tossed with fresh tomatoes and every combination of a cooked red sauce, to the fresh tomato salad paired with homemade mozzarella and chunks of perfectly cured prosciutto.
I have chosen the recipe below because it is so easy to prepare and it is warm and comforting on these cold winter nights. Buon appetito!
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Panata (Italian bread soup)
2 1/2 – 3 lbs plum tomatoes, quartered
3-4 turns of olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves
1 large onion, quartered
2 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter
4 slices day-old bread slices (one-inch thick)
parmesan cheese, garnish
chopped parsley, garnish
chopped basil, garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatoes, onion and garlic on cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about 45 minutes or until tomatoes are slightly charred and soft. Put into a food processor, blend to desired consistency. Return mixture to soup pot and add the chicken broth and butter. If the 2 cups is not enough, just add more. You can’t ruin it. Bring to a simmer for a few minutes and taste soup. Re-season if necessary.
Gently crack each egg on the top of the soup and cover pot to cook eggs until desired doneness.
In the meantime prepare the bread by drizzling with olive oil and toasting in oven until lightly browned. Place at the bottom of soup bowl and ladle soup into bowl.
Place the eggs on top of each serving of soup. Garnish with lots of parmesan cheese, parsley and basil. Enjoy!