This morning there were two rather soft, slightly wrinkly tomatoes lurking in the fruit bowl, they had pan con tomate written all over them. Why put tomatoes in the fridge? So many shop-bought tomatoes are like bullets anyway and even the most unpromising, cotton -wooly specimens can only improve with a couple of days maturing on the side in the kitchen. If you do happen to forget them for a few days, and they’re past the firm tomato salad stage then they’ll be perfect for squashing on some good toast; the Catalan answer to bread and butter.
I ate my first toasted bread, rubbed with garlic, tomato and then doused with wonderful olive oil, as a child in Ibiza. My memories of the tiny Balearic Island are a million miles from the wild nightclubs that most people that most people think of. My grandparents moved there in the ’60’s and my sister, Libbus, and I spent holidays trudging down the dirt track through the pines to the beach, visiting hippi markets, eating the best peaches in the world, watching geckos and getting sunstroke (thankfully just the once). This month we finally said good bye to Ibiza Gran, who had reached the incredible age of 100. She was a legend: worldly-wise, fabulously outspoken, with a superbly exotic wardrobe (that used to fill me with dread as a teenager) and an unmatched talent for “Spanglish”. As we sat down on the beach at her favourite restaurant Ses Boques (below Es Cubells) I just had to dive into a plate of gambas a la plancha and some pan con tomate with a glass of vino rosado, to toast her on her way. Gran would have been tucking into the alioli too (the feistily pungent garlic emulsion served with bread); she always maintained that garlic was key to good health and long life.
But back to the business of the bread and tomato. It is quite simply one of the very most surprisingly delicious things to do with a tomato and so, so much better than just slicing it onto a piece of bruschetta.
You will need, per person:
A couple of slices of country, rustic or sourdough bread
1 clove of garlic, sliced in half lengthwise
1 very ripe tomato, cut in half equatorially
A dash of extra virgin olive oil
A good pinch of salt
The bread is great toasted on a ridged griddle, or better still on a toasting fork over an open fire, but an everyday toaster will do the trick too. It’s definitely not the moment for brown or granary bread, most Spaniards still think that you must have some distressing health problem to even consider eating the stuff but, more to the point, it doesn’t work as well here.
Rub the toast with the cut side of the garlic clove, it’s amazing how much flavour the bread soaks up.
Now squeeze the tomato directly onto the bread, you want as much of the soft flesh as possible, the skin gets thrown out. You can grate the tomato half at a time and you’ll be left with the just the skin in your fingers, it’s a restaurant trick, but I always prefer to squash and squeeze my own.
Drizzle with some delicious extra virgin olive oil (I love the Spanish oils extracted from the tiny Arbequina olives) and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Dive in whilst it’s warm.
Pan con Tomate makes a great snack alongside other Tapasy bits like tortilla, calamares or fried artichokes. You could have some, D.I.Y. style, at your next barbeque or you could indulge, as I did, with some sublime Ibérico ham.
And here’s just a glimpse of idyllic Ibiza, for those of you who might think that it’s all about sweaty DJs, pedalos and cheap sangria. OOh I could do with a bit of that right now.