Pancotto – bread soup

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This recipe literally means “cooked bread” but is best described as bread soup. It’s the most commonly made peasant soup, which starts with a base of rustic country bread (not sliced loaf or sandwich bread, which would make it gluey and unpleasant), and a combination of local ingredients. In Italy the cook would use bread that has become firm and dry, pane raffermo meaning “firmed up,” a nicer terminology than stale bread. This very simple version represents the Southern Italian fondness for edible roots, weeds and leaves.

  • 2 T. OO
  • 1 med. onion, diced
  • 1/4 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb. dandelion greens, well washed, leaves coarsely chopped
  • 4 thick slices of stale bread, white or whole wheat, torn into bite-size pieces
  • salt
  • water
  • freshly grated, aged sharp pecorino cheese


Heat the OO in a soup pot over med. heat. Add the onion, a little salt and the red pepper flakes and cook until the onions are lightly golden.

Add the greens and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and add the bread. Simmer gently for about 30 min. or until the greens are tender and the bread has absorbed enough liquid to break down into a course puree. Stir well to be sure that the greens cook evenly.

Taste and check seasoning. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of freshly grated tangy sharp pecorino cheese.

N.B. This most simple recipe has as many variations as towns and villages in Italy. Have fun with it and substitute other bitter greens, or add chopped sweet fennel, tomatoes, potatoes, beans and handfuls of chopped fresh herbs. Of course, if you were not poor you could use light meat or chicken broth instead of water.