For everyone (like me) who doesn’t speak Catalan, here is a translation:
Pa amb tomàquet = Bread with tomato
That might not sound so exciting, but there are two very important things to bear in mind. The first is that this is just so soooooo much better than the name implies it is going to be, and the second is that this is NOT just a Spanish/Catalan version of bruschetta.
The Catalan national dish?
Pa amb tomàquet embodies everything that is great in Mediterranean food. Crispy bread, pungent garlic, beautiful sun ripened tomatoes, sea salt, and bewitchingly good olive oil.
When I was living in Barcelona, Catalans that I met seemed to eat pa amb tomàquet morning, noon, and night, and they were right to do so, and I happily did the same. It is so beloved that many people refer to it as the Catalan national dish. It can be breakfast, lunch, supper, a snack for children coming home from school, or tapas at any moment of the day.
It could be eaten on its own, but is more often served with cured sausages, cold meats, anchovies, cheeses, or grilled vegetables. Eat it as it comes as a snack or serve it with some cheese and a simple salad as a meal.
This really is fantastically simple and shockingly good!
Notes on ingredients
This isn’t really cooking, it is just taking and combining a few fantastic ingredients and letting magic happen. There are just four ingredients; bread, tomatoes, olive oil and salt, so they have to be right and they have to the best they can be.
The bread should be white and rustic, not too fluffy if that makes sense, a bit denser and chewier than a French baguette.
Your tomatoes don’t have to be from the Mediterranean, and in fact unless you live there they really shouldn’t be. They should be locally grown, ideally ripened on the vine, and as ripe and juicy as you can get them. The trick is to get the kind of tomatoes where the flesh is not too firm and will just squish and rub out and away from the skin without needing enough force to tear the toasted bread to pieces.
You can use whatever good quality extra virgin olive oil you like, Spanish is obviously traditional, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it.
Now, while the Mediterranean countries do produce some very good sea salts, I think that the Northern France and the East of England produce better (and cheaper). My favourite to use for this dish is actually Maldon salt from England.
The recipe (if you can call it that)
- Olive oil
As with so many great dishes, the recipe is ludicrously simple.
- Lightly toast a thick slice of bread on both sides. Ideally do it over a wood fuelled fire, but since most of us don’t have one handy most of the time, a grill or a toaster will do just fine.
- Cut a clove of garlic in half and rub it all over the surface of the bread.
- Cut a ripe tomato in half, and rub the cut side into the bread, so that all of the juice and pulp of the tomato is left on the bread, and you end up with just the skin in your hand.
- Drizzle a good amount of olive oil over the tomatoey bread.
- Sprinkle on some coarse sea salt (to taste).
That’s it, sit back with a glass of cava, or if you happen to be in Portugal then some crisp vinho verde, and eat it while it is still warm.