After our ten-day trip through Portugal in July, it seemed a shame to be just an hour and a half by air from Barcelona and not go there—especially since Andrew had only been to Spain twice. We’d spent a magical day in Salamanca as part of our Douro River Cruise. And we’d gone to La Coruña in Galicia two years ago and then only for a day. La Coruña, most recently famous for being the headquarters city of the clothier Zara, was a port of call on Viking Star’s Maiden Voyage that we’d sailed on two years ago. These two visits just whetted our appetite for Spain.
So off we flew arriving in Barcelona early in the morning. As with any trip we take, I’m always anxious to introduce Andrew to foods I’d eaten on previous solo visits. And in Barcelona, I wanted him to enjoy the Tapas that are now a world-famous symbol of Spain and its food culture. Most of all, I wanted him to sample Pan Con Tomate. It is truly one of simplest of all tapas. A slice of bread brushed with olive oil is toasted and then the bread is rubbed with a cut tomato. It’s one of the most flavorful and satisfying ways l ways I can think of to enjoy the bounty of the season’s tomatoes. So I sought them out practically the minute we landed.
Tapas themselves are served hot or cold, varying wildly by where they are made and what they are made of. About the only agreement is that tapas invariably mean a small serving of food. Legend has it that in the 19th century a bar keeper in Andalusia used a slice of sausage, bread or cheese to ‘tapar’ or ‘cover’ a drinking glass to prevent insects from falling into the drink. They were free too and many bars in Granada, Almeria or Jaén still give them away with drinks. They operate on the same principle as the salty snacks in American bars: Sell more drinks to quench the thirst the salt creates. Tapas are not free in Barcelona. They are usually eaten early in the evening, to fend off hunger. Because in Spain people still eat a full dinner at 9 or 10 o’clock at night. In Barcelona, tapas can be ordered from a menu and paid for like any other item on the menu. And it’s entirely possible to make a meal out of just tapas as long as the wine keeps flowing.
There’s another popular history of tapas that claims that King Alfonso X, “ Alfonso The Wise,” fell ill and was required to drink copious amounts of wine to recover. The King then ate small portions of food to lessen the effects of too much alcohol. Recovered, the King insisted that every Spanish household should serve a small portion of food with every drink to prevent public drunkenness.
The first Pa Amb Tomàquet we tried was…disappointing…to say the least. At one of the restaurants practically always listed as ‘not to be missed’, Pa Amb Tomàquet had the slimmest possible coating of tomato on poorly toasted bread. But I was determined not to give up. We decided to make one of our lunches a tapas-only affair. Not hard to do, the Rambla de Catalyuna, north of the Plaça de Catalunya, is filled with outdoor cafés that run straight up the middle of this pedestrian-friendly street. Each is served by a restaurant. We chose ours for its menu and because I saw Pan con Tomate on its menu. At last, here was the real thing. It’s a relatively modern dish on Catalan menus because the tomato itself was not widely eaten until the 1800s. Food historians say the first written recipe dates from just 1884 and was likely created during a bumper harvest of tomatoes. The tomatoes would have been used to soften hardened bread. You may see a similarity between Pa amb Tomàquet and Italian bruschetta and Nicoise Pan Bagnat but it will always remind us of Spain.
Coming home, it was one of the first things I wanted to make. And I was in luck. Bon Appetit and its August issue, called “The Simple Issue” did an amazing round-up called “Ripe and Ready” which, you guessed it, featured a terrific number of recipes for farm stand tomatoes. Included in Andy Baraghani’s recipe collection was none other than Pan Con Tamate. Arriving back in Bridgehampton, I could not have been happier seeing gorgeous tomatoes at farm stands all over the place. I brought my haul home. And I worked with their recipe. Bon Appetit broke a couple of rules: they don’t rub the toast with cut tomatoes. They used a box grater to make a raw sauce that is then spooned over the garlic scented, olive-oiled bread. This Pan con Tomate soaks into the bread. Now you can gild this lily with anchovies, fresh oregano and freshly ground pepper. I like mine topped with nothing more than flaky sea salt. It’s pure heaven on toast. Here is the recipe:
Pan con Tomate or Pa Amb Tamoquet
A perfect way to use the season's ripest, reddest tomatoes in an unforgettable hors d'oevre or side dish.
- 1 ciabatta loaf
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 2 garlic cloves, halved crosswise
- 2 lb. heirloom tomatoes, cored
- Flaky sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, chopped oregano, and/or oil-packed anchovy fillets (for serving
- Step 1 Preheat oven to 300°. Using a good bread knife, slice the ciabatta into ½ inch slices. You should have 16 pieces total.
- Step 2 Drizzle 3 Tbsp. oil over bread and rub each piece to evenly distribute oil. Place bread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until lightly browned and dried out, 30–40 minutes. Rub warm toast with cut sides of garlic. Set aside.
- Step 3 Meanwhile, slice a thin round off the bottom of each tomato. Starting at cut end, grate tomatoes on the largest holes of a grater into a medium bowl until all that’s left are the flattened tomato skins. Finely chop skins and mix into grated flesh. Season very generously with salt.
- Step 4 Spoon a generous amount of tomato sauce over each toast (you may have some left over). Let sit at least a minute or two so bread can absorb some of the juices. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with more salt, and top as desired.