When I was a child of about six or seven, I was completely fascinated by Wonder Bread. Sadly for me, it was the only bread not allowed in the house. We were Spanish. We ate real bread. End of story. You can imagine how this might drive a child constantly exposed to endless white bread commercials, absolutely nuts. At my Catholic elementary school, the other kids would open their lunch boxes to reveal bright white, perfectly square sandwiches that beckoned me from across the lunch table. Meanwhile, I would click open my own Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox to reveal a huge baguette-style ham and cheese sandwich dressed with olive oil and tomato. Years later, the embarrassment and horror is still palpable. My saving grace was the Twinkie my grandmother would always pack for me that was easily trade-able. Don’t ask me why Twinkies were OK with the family but not American white bread. It remains a great culinary mystery to this day.
One afternoon, while food shopping with my grandfather, he caved. I begged, pleaded in the bread aisle of the local Shopwell. This time, my Avi, as I called him (Catalan for grandfather), just couldn’t say no to his only granddaughter. He added it to our little cart and off we went. Looking back, I can’t fathom preferring white bread over the crusty, delicious loaves I now prefer, but there you have it. One of the seven wonders of childhood.
Pa amb tomaquet (bread with tomato) is one of my top three comfort foods. Deeply satisfying, it is as easy as scrubbing a ripened tomato over a piece of toasted Spanish (or French-style) bread or baguette. Add a drizzle of olive oil and some coarse salt and you’re done. It can be had as a starter, side dish, tapa or as a meal itself by adding some ham, cheese, veggies, anything you like, really.
Catalonia, Spain is, of course, not the only region that enjoys bread and tomato. The Italians have their famed bruschetta, in the Provence region of France you might see thinly sliced tomato atop bread and Americans have the beloved tomato sandwich. I will say the vigorous scrubbing of the tomato is a one-step delight that makes me proud to be a Catalan. To note, tomatoes are not native to Spain and were first brought over in the sixteenth century. One of the first written reference to pa amb tomaquet in Catalonia was in 1884, but since then it has become one of the centerpieces of Catalan cuisine. A home and restaurant staple, the craved for after-school snack, the perfect accompaniment to a meal, the quintessential tapa. Just don’t try it with Wonder Bread.
- 2 mini spanish or french-style baguettes (or 1 regular sized baguette)
- 1 large ripe tomato
- extra virgin olive oil
- course salt
- (optional: manchego cheese, serrano or prosciutto ham)
- Slice your baguette in half (horizontally)
- Toast bread to your liking and set aside
- Slice tomato in half horizontally
- Scrub tomato onto the toasted bread until it's a bit soaked into the top layer of the bread. Make sure you're squeezing the tomato lightly as you scrub to get the tomato juices and pulp out.
- Take the halves of the leftover tomato and grate with box grater
- Add grated tomato on top of bread
- Drizzle liberally with olive oil
- Sprinkle with salt to taste
I like to add grated tomato in addition to the tomato scrubbing since I prefer to use as much of the tomato as possible. In Spain, you'll find that the scrubbing is usually what's done although a few home cooks (like me) take extra liberties and add some of the grated tomato.
To make it more of a meal, you can add some sliced manchego cheese and serrano ham. If you can't find serrano ham (can be a challenge to find at local supermarkets) you can substitute prosciutto ham.