Thursday, August 23, 2007

Catalan Tomato Bread - Pa Amb Tomàquet


Perhaps one of Catalonia’s simplest and most beloved dishes, pan con tomate (or pa amb tomàquet in the Catalan language) is the tomato bread served to school children and late-night tapas bar carousers alike. The first time I visited Barcelona, I was so enchanted by the ritual of making the bread and so infatuated with the savory aroma and juicy, golden flavor that I practically lived on the stuff.

The beauty is this: You’ve been pounding the streets all morning, or even all day. The heat is scorching and the light intense, but you must get to the Boqueria market, the Gothic Quarter, the Gaudí basilica, or wherever else you’ve decided will mean that you’ve truly made the most of this trip. That you’ve experienced Barcelona. As you enter yet another perfect, ancient, cobblestoned plaza, you spy 4 or 5 tables nestled in a shady corner. A few halting phrases – make sure you include the words “vi rosat” – and the next thing you know, respite, refreshment, rejuvenation, and a mounting sense of serene contentment are yours.

The waiter will bring you a heap of toasted or grilled bread; several ripe, plump tomato halves; peeled garlic cloves, halved as well; jade green or glittering gold olive oil; a little bowl of sea salt; and a platter of pink, whisper thin Serrano ham, which is technically optional, but not to be missed. If you remembered to say “vi rosat,” an all-important bottle of chilled rosé wine will arrive as well. Scrub one side of the bread with the cut side of a garlic clove and then again with half a tomato. Make sure to squeeze out the tomato jelly and seeds into the bread as well as some of the sweet, red flesh. Douse the entire thing with generous amounts of the oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and lay on a single layer of ham.

Bite, chew, and allow the savory, sweet, salty, unctuous flavors to meld. Take a gulp of rosé, and then a deep, restorative breath. Repeat. This, you begin to realize, is Barcelona. Museu Picasso be damned. It’ll still be there if and when you come up for air.


It’s a ritual I fell in love with immediately and utterly. I often serve this tapa with a green salad for supper or as a first, ice-breaking course at dinner parties. Summer is still here – it’ll be 90 again this weekend in New York - and I urge you to try tomato bread for yourself. It makes for fantastic picnics too – most recently last week in Washington Square Park with my good friend Jo and her incredibly sweet 3-year-old Benny.

33 comments:

Patricia Scarpin said...

Isn't it amazing how something so simple to put together can be so delicious, Amanda??
I love this - I once read an article on it, written by a Brazilian chef who had worked in a restaurant in Spain for a while.

Jen said...

I still think simple is always best. There was a new study out in the ap wires or something like that in the last day or two that showed that most people don't use convenience foods for convenience but for making meals more "elaborate" and that when people don't use convenience foods, they spend about the same time making dinner, but use simpler ingredients.

I'm probably babbling and not making this clear, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think the natural way to eat might be simpler and fewer, so you can experience the individual ingredients and not make things so *hard* in terms of meal preparation.

And this looks so delicious...

foodette said...

It just goes to show that Europeans know so much more than us Americans. We always think bigger is better, but this dish would pale many of ours with it's simplicity and freshness. Thanks for teaching me about tomato bread. Oh, and I agree: the best way to immerse yourself in another culture is through their food, not their museums!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Patricia, the simplicity is extraordinary, you're so right! The flavors are so good together, but you'd lose all the magic if you made it more complicated. Thanks!

Jen, you know even in the 50s at the height of the packaged food craze, advertisers had to concoct a whole cult of "doctoring up" to convince homecooks that they were still contributing creativity to the meals they prepared. It's a fascinating phenomenon, and I totally agree!

Foodette, thank you! Clearly it's my philosophy that if you choose ingredients that are at their best (in season) and keep things simple, then your food will be wonderful. This dish exemplifies that for me, and it will always bring me back to Barcelona whenever I make it. And yes, sitting around in a plaza at a cafe and watching daily life unfold around me is my favorite way to learn about a new place! Well put.

Anonymous said...

hi,

I with you on the love of all things tapas. We just came back from Barcelona, 2 months ago and had tapas. perfect with red wine and hot summer nights. I am gonna try your recipe.
I have also added you to my food blog pennypincherspantry.wordpress.com

thanks linda

Wendy said...

Starting to feel like a bit of a tit with all my "when I was in..." responses to your posts. Apologies, you just keep reminding me of interesting situations I've been in!
This beautifully written post reminds me of the summer my EFL classes were full of strapping Spanish and Catalan soldiers. Yes, it was a terrible job but someone had to do it. ;) Anyway, we had an international night and they took along spanish bread and tomatoes to make this. Considering the simplicity of the dish, it was hillarious to see the arguments break out about what was the very best way of squishing the tomato on to the bread.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Linda, thank you and welcome! Isn't Barcelona a wonderful city? Hope you enjoy the recipe.

Wendy, then I'm a tit too, so at least you're in good company!! It's actually great to hear your experience/ take on similar things, so don't even worry about it, and I apologize for always doing the same thing! That may be the best teaching gig I've ever heard of - the mind reels ; )
Were the arguments about the order of things? I know that further south in the country you put the olive oil on before the tomato. I think it depends which you want the bread to absorb more.

Jennifer said...

this is one of my most favorite things!
I love it's simplicity

Charlotte said...

I never knew about this dish. Its like an even simpler version of bruschetta. I will try Freddie on this one. He might like it with the hands-on aspect. I think kids love eating and assembling food. I always learn something new from your blog.
Thanks

Cynthia said...

I am licking and smacking my lips at the prospect of this!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jennifer, me too! It's addictive, and I often find myself craving it.

Charlotte, thank you! Freddie would be great at this, I'm sure. In Spain, it's the consummate after school snack - often just the bread, tomato, oil, and salt. And yes, I agree about the do-it-yourself aspect. My cousin's little girls have loved to make this with me for years now, though the garlic's a bit much for them. They say it's "spicy."

Cynthia, thank you! Let me know if you have a chance to make it. Do you have access to cured ham? Even if you don't or if the importing makes it ridiculous, the bread, tomato, garlic, oil and salt are traditional alone and delicious.

Maryann said...

I can only agree..this is simple and most delicious. I think I want some tonight in fact :)

Tina said...

What a great tapa! I love that children eat it too - it sounds delicious, and Benny looks so cute.

The Passionate Palate said...

Yum!!! Thanks for the mini-trip to Catalonia. I, too, love that simple tomato bread and make it often, eve for breakfast. I never knew the Catalan name for it, nor the proper way to ask for vino rosato. Gracias.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Maryann, thank you! And agreed! I want some tonight too.

Tina, thanks! I guess you could call it comfort food in that way. And isn't he the sweetest? Such a good boy.

Passionate Palate, thank you. I'm so glad you like the post, and I so agree about tomato bread for breakfast - what could be better?

Casey said...

We were fortunate enough to have a student from Barcelona live with us for 9 months; now we go there. every few years to see him and his family. I adore everything about that beautiful old city, including the food. I think the seafood there is some of the best I've ever tasted anywhere.
And I agree that the simplest dishes are the best -- with tomato bread ranking high on any roster of great local treats.

Andy said...

Great blog you have here! I just a found about 4 new ways to put my heirloom tomatoes to use now. Thanks!

joey said...

This is one of the things I love about Barcelona :) My godmother lives there and I remember praparing these for when she would have guests...lovely food memories! You are so right about the food connection to a country's vibe...very true :) And so wonderful to experience :)

Ilva said...

Just another proof of that simplicity often is the best! Thanks Amanda for a beautiful post!

Sophie said...

We've just come back from Barcelona where we ate loads of this bread. I don't think we ever offered a deconstructed version though it always arrived fully assembled. A great snack and I loved seeing how different places all made it slightly differently

Figs Olives Wine said...

Casey, how wonderful to have an excuse to go so often like that! I'm with you on the seafood - I've had such exquisite seafood dishes there, and you just brought a few flooding back to mind!

Andy, thank you! You know, I was getting requests for help with the tomato glut, so I'm so glad it's helping out.

Joey, how wonderful to have a godmother in Barcelona. Do you go often? And yes, food is such a great way to get acquainted with a new place, isn't it? Somehow it can evoke the rhythm of life in a way that cuts through all the tourist static.

Ilva, thanks so much! You're so right about the simplicity too - add or subtract a single ingredient here, and the balance would be lost.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Sophie, oops I think we posted comments at the same time there. How interesting! I was never offered a pre-made version, though I would have gobbled that down too. It's wonderful, isn't it?

Maryann said...

I DID have it for supper last night and, can I say, "yum"? Thanks for the post.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

This is wonderful and sounds a lot like how we make the traditional bruschetta. I have grilled the tomatoes as well and this adds some more depth to an already perfect dish!!!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Maryann, how wonderful! I'm so pleased you enjoyed it.

Jenn, you're quite right. Though while traditional Italian bruschetta is technically just toasted bread rubbed with garlic, olive oil, and salt, in Spain it's the garlic that's optional and the tomato is essential. Interesting variations by region, right?

Mercedes said...

You captured Barcelona so well, it's one of my favorite cities for eating, so many lovely small simple dishes like this.

Jan said...

What a great post! It sounds delicious, and the picnic looks fun too!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Mercedes, thank you. I agree about Barcelona's food - I've had some of the simplest but most exquisite meals of my life there.

Jan, thanks! It was a great day - good food and good friends.

Truffle said...

Having recently come back from Barcelona I can't tell you how happy this post made me. Brought back fantastic memories and I absolutely love your photos!

Joanne Rendell said...

take it from me and benny - those two hungry picnickers in the park - it was so so delicious!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Truffle, thank you! How wonderful to have been in Barcelona recently! It's been far too long since I've was last there, and I'm so glad you like the photos!

Jo, you two are the best picnickers this town has ever seen.

Daniela said...

Oh so many thanks are in order, I do not know where to begin.

I am eating this RIGHT NOW. I had the remainder of a baguette that had started to get a bit stale and I sliced it and popped it under the broiler. I didn't have ham on hand, and I used a yellow tomato, but my goodness... the crispy bread, the green flavor of the olive oil, the spicy heat of the garlic, the sweet nuance of tomato, and the salty tang of the pecorino I sprinkled on top is just... summer on a slice.

Thank you for a new favorite!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Daniela, how wonderful! I'm so pleased you're enjoying it as much as I do. And I love the innovative cheese in lieu of ham! Sounds delicious.

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