An Italian meal wouldn't be a meal without a loaf at table, and lots of people even use it to accompany pasta (and then wipe up the drippings with the crust, what's called fare la scarpetta). Because of this love of bread we had 5 bakeries within a 5-minute walk from our house in Florence, and now that we're out in the country we've got 3. Problem is, sometimes we buy too much and some goes stale. Or is this a problem? No, because there are many uses for stale bread.
An extraordinarily refreshing bread salad that's perfect on a hot summer day, and makes for great picnic food too. Quite versatile, and can be made a day ahead.
I've seen this described as a wintery tomato soup in some English language cookbooks, but they're mistaken: Pappa al pomodoro shouldn't be soupy -- thick, rather -- and is something you make when sun-ripened tomatoes and basil are at their richest. Also, you make more than you think you'll need because everybody
comes back for seconds.
I prefer Bruschetta
made with fresh bread because it's dry. However, these slices topped with kale first get dipped into the pot liquor, so dryness is not a problem.
While we're on the subject of kale, here's a tasty winter soup from Versilia, the Tuscan coastal plain.
This bean, kale, and bread soup is one of the most classic Tuscan winter dishes, and it's well worth letting a loaf of bread go stale to make it. Or even two, because people will ask for more. Also, it gets better with time.
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.
Cacciucco is a fish stew made in the Tuscan port of Livorno, from whatever the fishmonger has that's fresh and inexpensive. It should have a healthy jolt of red pepper, and will sell you on fish if you don't like fish already. The stale bread? Slice it, and line the soup bowls with it.
Scottiglia is mountain cacciucco, a rich stew made with whatever animals the charcoal burners in the Tuscan Maremma managed to catch. In other words, a great variety of meats and no two pots are the same. But they are good, and you serve them over slices of toasted day-old bread.
Canederli (in German) are bread balls about the size of a golf ball, and are one of the symbols of the Dolomites, something hearty and simple that adds considerably to a bowl of broth or soup. You'll find a selection of them here.
"Something simple, fit for a family meal," writes Artusi, and as usual his creation is so tasty you may want to serve it to company too.