This fall, I was lucky enough to travel to the heart of Tuscany, between Bolgheri and Bibbona in the province of Livorno, just a few minutes away from the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea with my friends from Slow Food Kansas City.
Our group experienced many adventures and on one I was introduced to a lady nicknamed Peperita. Rita Salvadori is the daughter of Franco Salvadori, one of Italy’s most renowned olive oil producers whose farm is just a few miles away.
Peperita and her family farm over 60,000 pepper plants (200 varieties), farm fresh vegetables, olive groves and an orchard of fig trees and blackberries.
My friends and I were very fortunate to experience a lot of the hot peppers while visiting the farm.
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You’re probably asking yourself “peppers in Tuscany?” Are there chili heads in Italy? Indeed!
The setting is a small traditional farm with the simplest plants completely self produced and all grown organically.
We all enjoyed a taste of Peperita’s unique products along with a wonderful lunch of Pappa alla Pomodoro along with a pepper tasting and a pasta “risotto style” prepared by her husband in one of the largest pans you’ve ever seen. Did I mention the dishes were drizzled with Rita’s father’s signature olive oil? Just overwhelming. A simple dessert consisted of fig preserves spooned over Ricotta cheese. Oh my! What a lunch!
Rita also shared the recipe with me for her Pappa alla Pomodoro. I do hope you prepare this. It is so easy and a delicious and hearty starter for the fall and winter.
Pepperita’s Pappa alla Pomodoro
2 tablespoons tomato paste
16 ounces San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
Vegetable broth, heated to boiling
1 pound of slightly stale Tuscan bread
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon ground Habanero pepper
Red pepper flakes
8 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Clean the leeks and set aside the white parts, cutting them into 1/2 centimeter rounds.
In a large pot, add the olive oil and leeks as well as the tomato paste. Over a low heat, stir together with a wooden spoon, making sure it browns but does not burn. When the leeks are well cooked, add in the tomatoes along with the sugar and cook for 5 minutes. At this point pour in the boiling vegetable broth.
Cut the bread into very thin wafer-like strips and add these to the tomato and leeks, stirring constantly as it returns to a boil. Let the bread cook until it becomes unified, a smooth soft mash or “pappa” that is neither liquid nor solid. You should need a spoon to eat it.
Remove the pappa from the heat and cover it, letting it rest for 20 minutes. Then, add in the Habanero pepper, salt and red pepper, mixing everything well with a whisk. Sprinkle in the chopped basil leaves and a bit more olive oil on top.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.