Somewhere between a soup and a savory bread pudding lies aquacotta “cooked water”- a traditional peasant dish from Tuscany that uses stale bread, tomatoes, onions and whatever vegetables are available. Its name reflects its origins– lean times for farmers. When things were better, perhaps each member of the family would add an egg atop the mix.
Ingredients: Serves 4
3 medium white onions
8 cups water
1/2 cup olive oil
5 medium ripe tomatoes (8-10 Roma tomatoes) cut into chunks
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 cup basil leaves, torn
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Half a loaf of stale French or Italian bread
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Peel and thickly slice the onions*. Place onions in a large pot pour on 6 cups of water. Turn heat to medium and cook onion for about 15 minutes until the onions begin to soften. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and reserve the liquid.
2. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil. Add the cooked onions, tomatoes, celery, chopped basil, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes until all the vegetables are soft.
3. Add the onion broth to the vegetables and bring just to a simmer.
4. To poach the eggs, bring two cups of water to a boil in a separate sauce pan. To ensure unbroken yolks, crack each egg into a small bowl and then slip into the simmering water. When the eggs are just set, about two minutes, carefully remove them with a slotted spoon onto a plate and reserve.
5. Break the bread into chunks.
6. In four separate bowls ladle a layer of the soup. Then add bread chunks. Continue layering the bread and soup until the bowls are three quarters full, finishing with the soup.
7. Top each bowl with a poached egg and grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Giuliana Ragnini from Magliano in Toscana*Giuliana’s tip for cutting onions: About one hour before you slice the onions peel and cut in half. Place in a large bowl and just cover with tepid water. When ready, slice and weep no more.