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Farm Fresh Tomato Soup

(Passato di Pomodoro alla Contadina

Wonderfully fresh and Italian, this hot soup for 4-6 practically comes with cows mooing and chickens scratching, it's that redolent of the countryside. Chunky, filling, and unusually textured, it's a meal in itself.

Garnish: 6 fresh basil leaves, cut in paper thin strips.

Saute onions, garlic, and celery in the oil over medium-low heat in a large saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are golden (about 20 minutes). Add the tomatoes and salt. Cook on medium, partially covered, until the tomatoes are softened--about 20 minutes. If you think it needs it, add a pinch of sugar to balance acidity.

Tear the bread into pieces in a small bowl and pour in 1 cup of the hot broth. Let it absorb and soften--then mash it with a wooden spoon and scrape into the tomatoes. Pour in the rest of the stock and bring to a boil, stirring well to completely dissolve the bread. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the herbs and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Season to taste.

When ready to serve, ladle into soup bowls Garnish with shredded basil leaves and pour 1/2 teaspoon olive oil over each serving.