Tomato and bread soup

We make this lovely, nurturing, elegantly flavoured soup at this time of year when there tends to be a glut of tomatoes in the vegetable garden. Inevitably, some are in less than perfect condition – softening around the edges, perhaps, or with the odd bruise – but that makes no odds to this recipe. Based on the Tuscan pappa al pomodoro, this one is laced with garlic and sage, with just a hint of chilli, but you could also replace the sage with basil for a more traditional flavour.

Serves 4-6

1kg/2lb ripe tomatoes
80ml/3fl oz good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced into fine slivers
1 dried red chilli
5 sage sprigs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 slices of day-old, chewy, peasant-style bread
Aged balsamic vinegar, to finish (optional)

Chop the tomatoes roughly – don't bother to remove the seeds. Place a heavy-based pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is warm but not hot, add the chopped tomatoes, garlic, chilli and sage. Season with a good pinch of sea salt and a couple of grindings of black pepper. Turn the heat to really low and cook for 40 minutes, stirring every now and then.

Now tear the bread into rough chunks with your fingers and add to the soup. Don't stir; just let the bread disintegrate into the soup – it will readily absorb the wonderful, deep, satisfying flavourof the cooked tomatoes.

To serve, ladle into soup plates and drizzle with a little more olive oil and the balsamic vinegar if you wish. This soup is best served warm, rather than hot.