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Italian Bread Soups

For Both Summer And Winter


Italy boasts a rich tradition of bread soups, which is born of necessity: In the past people were much too poor to throw away stale bread. They therefore had to devise ways to make it edible; one of the most obvious (and tasty) is to work it into a soup. One important thing: You will need real Italian bread of the sort baked directly on the oven floor or a pizza stone, with a firm crust and crumb that can take being soaked in water without becoming a sticky paste. American-style white bread, what Italians call pane in cassetta, won't work.

Zuppa di Pan Cotto

A pair of South Italian recipes that are extremely simple: One is bread, water, and herbs, while the other gains a little substance from some lightly beaten egg. Peasant food of the highest order, and they're also easy to digest, which makes them ideal for coping with an upset stomach.

Zuppa di Pane alla Gallurese

Bread soup is common throughout Italy, and there are many variations on the theme. Some are wintry, whereas this Sardinian specialty from Gallura, the northeastern part of the island, is summery, and contains both tomatoes and cheese.

Zuppa Lombarda

Zuppa Lombarda is actually a Tuscan soup, which is made by serving beans in their bean broth, with thin slices of toasted bread and a drizzle of olive oil. Sounds and is very simple, but is also very good.

Crema di Zucca con Fontina

This creamy squash soup recipe is a traditional way to use stale rye bread on the Italian side of Monte Bianco, i.e. in the Valle D'Aosta.

Seupa Vapellenentse

This is one of the classic soups of the Valle D'Aosta, in part because the ingredients were readily available -- stale bread, Fontina cheese, and cabbage, which grows well in the cold of mountain valleys.


Acquacotta literally means cooked water, and is one of the classic soups of the Tuscan Maremma. The dish is generally served as a one course meal, and in the past was eaten in the field by shepherds and stockmen -- peasant food, in short. As is the case with any regional dish, there are as many versions as there are cooks.

Ribollita & Minestra di Pane

Minestra di pane and ribollita are two of the best uses for sliced Tuscan bread (crusty, firm of crumb, and without salt) I have ever come across. Tuscans make this hearty winter soup with beans and cavolo nero, black leaf kale, a long-leafed variety of winter cabbage whose leaves are a very dark purplish green. When it's reheated the next day, Minestra di Pane becomes Ribollita, and is even better!

Zuppa di Pane alla Cagliaritana

This is another summery Sardinian bread soup, and is again tomato based. It gains additional richness from yogurt and Pecorino Sardo.

Zuppa Magra di Cipolle

This is a Piemontese recipe for meatless onion soup, which gains body and depth from being served over slices of stale bread. One could do much, much worse.

Roberto Giannini's Ribollita

Roberto says, "I wanted to send you a recipe for Ribollita followed by generations of my Tuscan ancestors. Though my Father was from Bologna, my family is Tuscan, from Massa Marittima in the Province of Grosseto more recently, and Terranova Bracciolini in the Province of Arezzo going further back. This recipe is more than 200 years old, and I had to recopy it onto a fresh sheet because the original, written by my ancestor Teresa Stiatti at the end of the 1700s, is crumbling with age."

Cacciucco alla Livornese

Cacciucco is actually a hearty fish stew made with whatever the fishmonger had leftover at the end of the day -- a bit of this, a bit of that, and the more variety the better. But it wouldn't be quite right without toasted bread rubbed with garlic to line the soup bowls, and I therefore consider it a bread soup.

Zuppa di Cavolo Nero su Fette di Pane

Tuscany is well known for bread soups, in particular the minestra di pane that's common in the center of the region during the winter months, and its cousin, ribollita, which one makes by reheating one's minestra di pane the next day. This kale soup soup is instead from Versilia, the coastal region north of the Arno, and involves considerably more garlic than one encounters inland.

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