Michael Chiarello's Bottega

Recipes from the heart of California wine country


Too many restaurant cookbooks make promises that they can't keep. You pick them up after a magical evening in a beloved dining room, a night when you had a meal that redefined your ideas of what great food looks and tastes like. The book has stories from the kitchen and photos of the exact thing you were eating -- there it is, look at it -- and then, the book tells you a lie, in the form of a recipe. It suggests that you, too, can make the roast chicken or suckling pig or ricotta gnocchi that's been haunting your dreams since the moment it was delivered to your table. Perhaps there are home cooks out there so well-trained and well-equipped that they can make this fantasy a reality. But if you're like me, here's the cold, hard truth: When you want that exact roast chicken again, you'll need to make another reservation.

In Bottega, a collection of striking Italian recipes from Michael Chiarello's Yountville institution, the chef addresses this issue head-on: "Every recipe is written to lead the home cook step by step through making the dish just as it appears on the restaurant table." But then there's a refreshing caveat, in the form of a challenge: "If you want to make a dish Bottega style, get your game on. You can forget about sipping Champagne while you lean against the counter and occasionally stir." When you see what's in store for you if you accept, you won't hesitate to try.
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Michael Chiarello's comforting take on tomato bread soup.
The apparent simplicity of Bottega's many rustic Italian recipes is a double-edged sword. While it may seem like you should be able to pull off an "easy" sauce or soup without a full-blown culinary education, remember (and don't worry, Chiarello will remind you) that patience and practice are almost especially crucial for these rustic dishes. He encourages home cooks to try the recipes over and over until they feel like second nature, a method that seems high-maintenance until you realize that even when you aren't hitting the Bottega standard, you're still churning out some damn good meals.

The cookbook suggests pairing this Tuscan classic with Sangiovese, and truth be told, tomatoes and Sangiovese -- particularly a light little playfful Chianti -- are a fine pairing, but don't be bound to it. You might want to explore a bit with a nice Frappato or perhaps a juicy Barbera.

Pappa al Pomodoro (Tomato-Bread Soup)

Serves 6

This soup is the definition of Tuscan food, made from great tomatoes that aren’t cooked too long, mixed with old bread, and milled for texture. It’s very Tuscan; you won’t find versions like this in Southern Italy. I like the combination of fresh Roma and canned plum tomatoes, but you can use all fresh if you like; just aim for about 6 1/2 pounds of tomatoes. If you don’t have a food mill, by all means use your food processor, but for a true pappa al pomodoro a mill is key. This soup is all about the texture: the word velvety comes to mind, not because this soup is smooth but because the combination of good tomatoes and stale bread has a mouthfeel that’s rich and satisfying. It’s the most rustic food and yet it doesn’t feel simple or rustic in your mouth. Darrell Corti, who calls himself a grocer, is actually a wine merchant and food expert and also one of the smartest guys I know. He makes a pappa al pomodoro even thicker than mine, and it’s like a breath of new air.

You can spoon this onto a plate as a sauce and top it with grilled sardines, fried calamari, or slices of grilled steak.

Wine Pairing: Sangiovese

5 pounds fresh Roma (plum) tomatoes
One 28-ounce can peeled whole plum tomatoes
4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 cups diced crustless bread, preferably from a slightly stale country-style loaf
Sea salt, preferably gray salt, and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Core each tomato (see note below), mark a shallow X in the opposite end, and blanch in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds. Transfer to cold water to cool briefly, then peel the tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes in half, scoop out the seeds with your fingers, then chop. (I prefer to squish the pulp into a large bowl.) Drain, reserving the liquid in a bowl. Empty the pulp into another bowl. Open the can of tomatoes and drain, adding the liquid to the reserved fresh tomato liquid and the canned tomatoes to the fresh tomato pulp.

Heat a large stockpot over medium heat, add 1 cup of the olive oil, and sauté the garlic until golden and aromatic, about 30 seconds. Pay attention because it colors quickly, and dark garlic can be bitter. Pour the tomato liquid into the pan and cook to reduce by half, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and pulp and cook until they give off their juices, about 30 minutes. Add the bread and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring to break down the bread.

To get the best texture, pass the soup through a food mill; don’t expect it to be satin smooth but it should be even in consistency, with no lumps of bread. If you don’t have a food mill, whisk the soup until the bread is broken up and then whir it in a blender. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add the basil. Whisk in the remaining 3 cups olive oil. Divide among warmed soup bowls.
Chef’s Note: Good tomatoes are like gold at Bottega, and we don’t waste a bit of them. When you core the tomatoes, take out as little flesh as possible. Then, cut a shallow X in the opposite end of the tomato and when it goes into the hot water, the skin will curl into four little corners, making it easier to peel.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: courgette
    124481 158

    "4 cups extra-virgin olive oil"???
    That HAS to be a typo.

    I've had many versions of this famous rustic dish, but feel quite sure it's never involved A QUART of olive oil per 6 servings! This is an ancient recipe developed by "poor people," who haven't traditionally squandered a months' worth of oil on a single dish. Also, 4 cups of oil divided by six means just under 3/4 c of oil in your bowl. Could anyone really choke that down? Even a single cup of oil would be overly luxurious in this dish, in my opinion.

    Oct 08, 2010 at 12:18 PM

  • Snooth User: Ltspdmn
    113989 2

    I looked it up in the cookbook. It DOES say 4 cups in the ingredients list. However, the directions "only" call for using 1 cup (in which you saute the garlic).

    Oct 08, 2010 at 12:46 PM

  • I agree about the 4 cups of olive oil, but it doesn't look like a typo. It is shame to use so much oil and fat in a classic, rustic and otherwise healthy Italian dish.

    Oct 08, 2010 at 12:58 PM

  • 1 cup of oil to saute 1 tablespoon of minced garlic also makes no sense, so maybe it is a typo in tehe cookbook. So maybe recipe was meant to read 4 tablespoons, not 4 cups. (Note the recipe directions above calls for whisking in 3 cups of olive oil at the end. Again, 3 tablespoons would make more sense. Is that step not in the cookbook?)

    Oct 08, 2010 at 1:11 PM

  • Snooth User: LHughes54
    134940 4

    Agree with above comments regarding amount of EVOO, that has to be a mistake. 1 Tbls. of garlic in 1c of EVOO is a bit over the top and wouldn't really be a saute by definition.

    Oct 08, 2010 at 1:13 PM

  • Snooth User: JoeT32043
    225020 1

    With seven pounds of Tomatoes and 4 cups of bread the oil will barely show. Sounds delicious to me!

    Oct 08, 2010 at 2:14 PM

  • Snooth User: homestar
    512161 83

    Ina Garten's recipe calls for 1/2 cup olive oil to 2 28 oz. cans of tomatoes.... I glanced at a few others that show similar proportions....so maybe ????

    Oct 08, 2010 at 3:38 PM

  • Snooth User: jamessulis
    Hand of Snooth
    426220 1,722

    Wow! Michael Chiarello has a wonderful Toasted Spice Rub in the current issue of Wine Spectator. It goes as follows
    1/4 cup fennel seeds
    1 tablespoon coriander seeds
    1 tablespoon black pepper corns
    1 1/4 red pepper flakes
    1/4 cup pure California (or other mild chile powder)
    2 tablespoons of kosher salt
    2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon

    1. In a small skillet, toast the fennel, coriander and peppercorns over medium heat, tossing frequently until the fennel seeds turn light brown.
    2. Turn your exhaust fan to high and add the red pepper flakes and toss the spices three times. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and empty the spices onto a plate to cool completely.
    3. In a blender combine the cooled spices with chile powder, salt and cinamon, (Don't try to grind the spices before they're at room temperature or they will gum up your blender's blades.) Blend until finely and evenly ground (Alternately use a small spice mill or coffee grinder dedicated to spices to finely grind the fennel, coriander, peppercorns and red pepper flakes). Empty the ground spices into a bowl and stir in the chile powder, salt and cinnamon.
    4. Store in an airtight container in a cool dark place for up to 4 months, or freeze for up to 1 year. Makes about a cup.

    I took the time to make the above, put it as a dry rub onto a boneless 2" thick boneless pork chop and grilled it on the Weber. Poured myself a glass of Hogue Reisling and paused to enjoyed an exceptional gourmet treat.

    If I took the time to type it you can believe it was exquisite.

    Bravo Michael !!!!!

    Lefty - The Great Pacific Northwest

    Oct 08, 2010 at 10:11 PM

  • Sadly, Botega was one of our least favourite dining experiences when we were in Napa. It sounds like the attention to details in the cookbook recipes is about as lax as it was in the restaurant.

    Oct 09, 2010 at 1:49 AM

  • Check out his recipe on the Food Network web site. There are no *cups* of olive oil.

    Oct 10, 2010 at 9:06 PM

  • Snooth User: oct
    223868 7

    it would be hard to believe it could be a typo..
    ingredient list shows "4 cups of ev olive oil"
    if you noticed, prep direction indictates to " add 1-cup to stockpot....."
    than afterward at last " whisk in the remaining 3-cups.."
    same typo 3 times? it should not be.

    Oct 11, 2010 at 7:11 PM

  • There are 16 tablespoons in a cup, therefore 1/4 cup is 4 tablespoons. Logic tells me that the ingredient list should be 1/4 cup EVOO. Then the directions should have read 1 TBSP to brown garlic then whisk in 3 TBSP. No wonder that the beginning of the story states that the home cook cannot duplicate a restaurant's recipe.

    Oct 12, 2010 at 1:21 PM

  • Snooth User: Nessa1977
    609534 1

    Hope someone can clarify this olive oil thing as it does seem a bit much and OO isn't cheap.

    I would love to make this soup, but not before this issue is cleared up.

    Oct 12, 2010 at 9:14 PM

  • Snooth User: garyfair
    609541 1

    Here is the link to the recipe as it appears on the Food Network website


    Oct 12, 2010 at 9:20 PM

  • I have been to Bottega and had a WONDERFUL meal as did my friends. We did not have this soup nor have I tired it. I do have the Bottega cookbook and two others of Micheal's and have tired many recipes. I have also tired several of his recipes published on the food network. Looking at the proportions.....it seems feasible that they are correct. But then I am not a professional chef...are you?!? Try it before you say you say it must be wrong.

    Additionally, Michael's link brought me to this sight. I am guessing if the recipe is wrong he would have noted it. Try it you might like it. Olive oil is good for you.

    Oct 13, 2010 at 1:26 AM

  • No, I'm not a professional chef. I enjoy cooking too much to make it a profession. I cook a lot for family and friends and have a good sense for ingredients and proportions. I suppose it is possible that the recipe would call for adding three cups of olive oil at the end, although the flavor of the olive oil would overwhelm the tomatoes. However the first line of the second paragraph of the directions:

    Heat a large stockpot over medium heat, add 1 cup of the olive oil, and sauté the garlic until golden and aromatic . . .

    It doesn't make sense. The garlic would not brown, it would drown. I do, however, agree with you that olive oil is good for you. I grew up with a southern Italian mother and grandmother who thought so. But I don't ever remember four cups of olive oil being used, even when they cooked for a Sunday dinner for 20 or so.

    Oct 13, 2010 at 9:55 AM

  • 4 cups of olive oil is correct...the flavor is best that way. You can cut it, but you'll be giving up texture and richness. We retested it with 1 cup total and it was fine but not what I would serve at Bottega.

    Oct 13, 2010 at 7:42 PM

  • Thank you for confirming the recipe, chef. Just to be sure, you use 1 full cup of oil to saute 1 tablespoon of minced garlic in the stock pot? To me this sounds like overkill. Why so much oil for 1 tbsp of garlic?

    Oct 13, 2010 at 10:32 PM

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