This is a fairly extravagant soup, and serves 6-8 hungry people. It's best in the summer, when you can get really rich tasting tomatoes. Make sure that the bread is an open textured one--pugliese or ciabatta--made with olive oil.

9 lb of ripe, very sweet tomatoes, skinned and seeded
(or, if you must, 4 and a half lb tinned plum tomatoes, drained of most of their juices)
4 or more fat cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into thin slices
6 fl oz olive oil
salt and black pepper
4 small loaves of stale pugliese
1 large bunch fresh basil
a little extra virgin olive oil

Put the garlic and the olive oil into a large heavy saucepan, and cook gently for a few minutes, adding the tomatoes just before the garlic browns. Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring from time to time, to concentrate the tomatoes. Add salt and pepper, one pint of water (that's an English pint, of 20 fluid ounces) and bring to the boil.

Cut most of the crust off the loaves of bread, and break them up into chunks. Add the pieces of bread to the tomato mixture, and stir until the liquid is absorbed by the bread which should become soft and pulpy. Add more water if the mixture is too thick. Take the pan off the heat, and let the mixture cool a little. Tear the basil leaves, and stir into the soup, with about 4 flo oz of the virgin olive oil.

Let the mixture sit for a little while, so that the flavours are absorbed. Serve into bowls, and add a dash of oil to each one.

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