By David Tanis
The New York Times
From Our NYT Files: You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato Toast
A Catalan favorite — toasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with juicy, ripe tomatoes — is just the meal for those high summer days. Right now, as high summer hits, and with it, an abundance of fresh, vibrant tomatoes, some version of tomatoes on toast is a very good idea. It could be a classic American B.L.T. for lunch, or perhaps a platter of small Italian tomato-topped bruschetta to serve with drinks.
My current favorite combination takes cues from Barcelona, where a spectacular slice of toast is rubbed with garlic and juicy ripe tomatoes, then anointed with olive oil. Called pan con tomate in Spanish (pa amb tomàquet in Catalan), it’s beloved throughout Catalonia.
Many Catalan cooks simply cut a tomato crosswise and vigorously massage the garlic-rubbed toast with the cut side until red and juicy. Others grate the tomato flesh to make a coarse purée, pushing it through the big holes of a grater, then spooning it over the bread. (Some season the purée with garlic, olive oil and salt.) On a recent trip to Barcelona, I saw both methods used. Everybody there eats tomato bread, and typically at every meal. At restaurants, it’s the first thing you order, often with an accompaniment of fat anchovy fillets or a plate of hand-cut Spanish ham. In Catalan homes, it makes for an easy and welcome snack any time of day.
Of course, tomato bread is eaten throughout all of Spain, but in the Catalan region, it has attained cult status. Originally, old, dry bread moistened with tomato and oil was a pauper’s way of making it palatable. (Stale bread was never wasted, so it also went into soups or was turned into bread crumbs.) Even today, day-old sliced bread is still revived in this manner. It couldn’t be easier: First, toast some bread until nicely golden and crisp. Rub a peeled garlic clove over the top of each slice. Then, spread a heaping tablespoon of grated tomato purée over each slice, sprinkle generously with salt, judiciously with pepper and extravagantly (a good tablespoon per toast) with extra-virgin olive oil.
My version adds a few tomato slices and cherry tomatoes arranged randomly over the top. Excessive? Perhaps, but with the current abundance of ripe tomatoes, it seems a reasonable gesture.
Serve these tomato-topped beauties as a substantial first course or as part of a light summer lunch. Or take the Catalan approach and offer tomato toast at every meal.