Good ingredients simply prepared is a hallmark of Spanish food. A good example of this is Pan con Tomate (bread with tomato), one of the most iconic dishes found throughout Spain. It can be the basis of a typical Spanish breakfast or served as a tapa along with jamón or anchovies. The recipe is so simple, it can hardly be considered a recipe at all. But a collection of Spanish recipes would not be complete without it.
The story of its origin is that the tomato was used to soften old, stale bread. The presentation varies, just the slightest bit, depending on where you are. In it’s birthplace of Catalonia, ripe tomatoes are rubbed across toasted bread. In southern Spain, we most frequently see a version in which grated tomato pulp is spooned on top of toasted bread. Honestly, this is the only way that we’ve ever seen it served outside of Catalonia. In Madrid, Malaga, Granada, Sevilla, Valencia…we have always been served a bowl of grated tomato with a plate of toasted bread.
Either way, the ingredients are the same: rustic bread, ripe tomatoes, garlic, salt and good olive oil. Classic Mediterranean. We prefer the later version of making a tomato pulp spread that can be made in advance and kept on hand in the fridge for a few days. In this method, I feel that the tomato itself plays more of a starring role since I can heap as much as I want onto the toast.
The riper the tomato, the better—always a good rule to live by. We go to the market and look for the box of over-ripe tomatoes that has been hidden in the corner or under the table. In August, tomatoes are plentiful in Spain. The prices drop dramatically, especially on those that are very ripe and have a short shelf life. And as mentioned earlier, the riper the better!
A box grater works great for making the tomato spread. Start by grating a clove of garlic over the small holes of the box grater into a bowl. Cut the tomatoes in half (or quarters if they are large) and remove any tough cores. With the skin side of the tomato against your palm, grate the tomato against the large holes of the box grater collecting the pulp in the bowl with the garlic. Grate deep onto the pulp as close to the skin as possible to get the meatiest part of the tomato, leaving nothing in your hand but the tomato skin.
We’ve made some small adjustments to the traditional method to suit our tastes. If you’ve got really juicy tomatoes, the grated tomato can be very wet. We like to have a thicker tomato spread, so the grated tomato pulp goes into a sieve to drain some of the excess liquid. Don’t press it—just let it drain naturally to keep some of the juice in there. We also pick out any large bits of tough tomato core that made it into the bowl.
Spoon the remaining tomato pulp into a bowl and season with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste (okay, we’re American – we put black pepper in everything). It’s not typical, but we also like to add just a dash of ground red pepper flakes to perk up the flavor. We always keep a grinder full of red pepper flakes nearby, ready to add some spice to whatever we’re cooking. Mix thoroughly so that the garlic gets spread evenly in the mixture and the oil and seasonings are well integrated.
A rustic bread, sliced lengthwise and toasted, absorbs the juices without becoming a soggy mess. Drizzle the toast with some good extra virgin olive oil. Spoon the tomato mixture on top and finish with sea salt flakes. We have a new obsession with black Mediterranean sea salt flakes. We can’t resist crumbling them onto everything and they are perfect to really make the tomato flavors explode here. Simple, and delicious!!
Pan con Tomate
1 kg (~2 lbs) Ripe tomatoes
One large clove of garlic
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus lots more for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of ground red pepper flakes (optional)
Rustic bread, thickly sliced
Sea salt to finish
- Grate one garlic clove over the small holes of a box grater into a bowl.
- Cut tomatoes in halves or quarters and remove tough cores. With the skin side against your palm, grate the tomato over the large holes of a box grater.
- If desired, transfer grated tomato pulp into a sieve to drain excess liquid (do not press). Remove any large bits of tomato core.
- Season tomato pulp with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
- Toast bread slices and drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil.
- Top bread with grated tomato mixture.
- Finish with a sprinkle of sea salt flakes.