While not nearly as well-traveled as much of the Uproxx Life staff, one place I actually have been is Spain (ah, travel, remember that?). The first dish I had in Barcelona was something called pan con tomate, a vaguely familiar dish that seemed to consist entirely of tomato pulp on top of some bread.
I’d had all these ingredients before a million times, just not in this exact configuration.
A traditional Catalán dish (pa amb tomaquet) dating back to the 16th century, pan con tomate was initially a way to reinvigorate stale bread. The reason I like it is that, well, for one thing, it’s incredibly easy. For another, I’m also one of the many people who used this quarantine to dabble in bread baking, and the tomatoes in my garden are just starting to ripen.
Got bread? Got tomatoes? Then you should know pan con tomate.
- Olive oil
Yep, that’s it. Now, the purists will say to use a rustic loaf of bread and the special hanged tomatoes they have in Spain (that lose moisture and concentrate flavor as they sit), but honestly, as long as you have decent bread, ripe tomatoes, and good olive oil it will work just fine. I’m growing early girl tomatoes in my garden and they work wonderfully.
It’s not required, and stale or untoasted bread works fine, but I like to cut mine into slices, lightly butter it (with more apologies to the purists), and stick it under the broiler until it’s lightly browned. That helps with the next step:
This is my favorite part. Take your peeled garlic clove, cut the top off, and sort of rub the cut part all over your toasted bread. Imagine the garlic is cheese and the toast is the cheese grater. Ideally, you’ll see the bread take on a slight sheen from the garlic oil and you’ll be able to smell garlic in the air. Incidentally, I use this exact technique for avocado toast.
Now, it’s true, the traditional Catalán way of doing this is to rub the tomatoes directly onto the bread. But hey, my garden is small, and fuck wasting all that tomato. I prefer grating the tomato over a bowl, which does add a bowl to clean but wastes less tomato and allows for cleaner hands. I use my microplane over a bowl and rub carefully until all that’s left ungrated is the skin.
Now I just spoon that mixture onto my toasted, garlic-rubbed bread. It’s okay that it’s making the bread soft, that’s kind of the point. To complete the dish, you simply drizzle on some olive oil (call it a teaspoon), and sprinkle on a little salt. I’ve heard there’s some argument about whether you should salt before drizzling olive oil or drizzle olive oil before salt. You could make a case for either — salt dissolves better in tomato than in oil, so you could say salt first seasons it better, though oiling last might also wash away some of the salt. I tend to go salt last, but I doubt it matters. I use more or less the same amount of salt you’d use to season an egg.
Ta-da! No really, that’s it. It’s like the laziest gourmet snack ever, which is why I love it. Once you’ve had it, you’ll almost feel guilty cooking your nice fresh tomatoes. And it’s basically the same flavors as bruschetta, pico de gallo, gazpacho, panzanella… There’s a reason we have so many different dishes based on basically the same three or four ingredients.
Avocado Toast Variation
We don’t get beautiful ripe tomatoes all year round (though you can get medium-shitty imported ones grown in a greenhouse somewhere) but you can usually find avocados. Start by toasting the bread and rubbing on the garlic in the same way, but then instead of tomato, use half of an at least semi-soft avocado. Cut it in half and add lengthwise slices, or cut it in half, score it into small cubes and then spread like butter.
To the avocado add a sprinkle of salt and a sprinkle of pepper. For extra credit, you can add a few drops of lime in place of the olive oil, and sprinkle on some chopped chives or chive blossoms.