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Simple Italian Bread Soup Recipe - Zuppa di Pan Cotto

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Toni says:

"I'm writing to ask if you ever heard of an Italian dish which my grandmother pronounced "Poon-COT"? The word probably had a vowel at the end which she didn't pronounce, kind of like "Ree-SOT" and "Mani-COT". It consisted of chicken broth with a scrambled egg stirred in the boiling mixture, and then soda crackers were added until they were very soft. It was then sprinkled with a little Parmesan cheese. She ate it when she was sick and made it for us grandchildren when we were sick. It must have worked, she lived to be 100 years old. "

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes


  • ** The Campanian Recipe **
  • 4 thick slices crusty stale bread, at least a half pound (225 g)
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • Salt
  • 1 quart (1 liter) water
  • ** The Lucanian Recipe **
  • 8 tablespoons olive oil
  • A clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 4 eggs, well beaten
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) stale crusty Italian bread, crumbled
  • Ground hot pepper to taste
  • A small bunch of basil, chopped
  • 1 pint (500 ml) water


Continuing with the introduction, I replied:
I wasn't expecting to find much on this, because it sounds like simple home cooking of the sort the poor practiced and that those who were writing cookbooks (aimed primarily at the middle/upper classes) wouldn't have written down. I've encountered similar difficulties in trying to track down other peasant dishes, for example simple, rustic Easter breads -- they're good, but those whose economic circumstances improved enough that they could prepare richer dishes stopped making them and didn't want to be reminded of them because they brought back memories of hardship.

However, I have found a couple of recipes, one from Campania and the other, which is a little richer, from Basilicata. Both very simple, and here they are; we'll begin with the Campanian recipe, which was a way to eat leftover stale bread that was much too precious to be thrown away or given to the livestock. To serve 4, assemble the Campanian ingredients given above.

Bring the water to a boil, salt it, and add the bay leaves. Let the mixture boil for a few minutes, and in the meantime crumble the pieces of bread and put them in your soup bowls. Spoon the broth over the bread, let it absorb the moisture for a few minutes, and serve.

Note: this is very, very frugal. You could add substance by using chicken or meat broth (or unsalted bouillon) instead of water, and jazz it up by adding one or two cloves of peeled crushed garlic to the pot, and dusting the soup with freshly grated Pecorino Romano at table. Or you could do more, stirring a beaten egg or two into the broth before ladling it over the bread.

Indeed, this is what they do in Basilicata; to prepare their Pane Cotto you'll need the Lucanian (the residents of Basilicata are called Lucani) ingredients listed above.

Set the water to heat, crumble the bread into 4 bowls, beat the eggs, and chop the basil.

Heat the oil in a pot big enough to contain the water as well, and saute the garlic and hot pepper to taste for a minute or two. Add the water, bring the mixture to a boil, and cook for a couple of minutes. Vigorously stir in the eggs and the basil and cook a minute more stirring all the while. Ladle the mixture over the bread and serve at once.

Again, you could use broth or stock to add substance, and as a variation, you could add some freshly grated Pecorino Romano.

And there we have it, two simple variations of a peasant dish. You may be wondering why the Italian recipes call for water: Because these are true peasant dishes, made by people who could afford meat once a week if that. Broth would have been entirely beyond their means.

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