The ultimate tapa for Catalans, pa amb tomaquet or pan con tomate, is the simplest and most beloved of tapas, a lightly grilled bread with tomato, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and sometimes a little garlic flair to it.
If you’ve ever set foot in Barcelona or its region, you probably saw this dish on every single tables. Omit ordering it at the restaurant… surely your waiter will ask you if you want some pan con tomate with your meal. It’s simply inconceivable not to order it. Pan con tomate or its Catalan term Pa amb tomàquet is such an integral part of the Catalan culture, identity even. So popular, to the point of having a book written about it, by Leopold Pomés called Teoria i práctica del pa amb tomàquet. You know it’s a serious matter when a whole book is written about a single dish.
History of Pan con tomate
Nèstor Luján wrote about pan con tomate back in 1884 although its origin goes way back to the 16th century. It was a way to revamp dry bread by adding the juice of a tomato on it and let it soak all that delicious tomato flavor. Today, the technique is used also in sandwiches, called Bocadillo (Spanish) or Entrepà (Catalan). Instead of adding mayonnaise or mustard they cover the inside of a baguette bread with tomato pulp and olive oil and fill it with whether, iberic ham, cheese, sausage, sardine, etc.
The rest of Spain also do pan con tomate, although it isn’t as “holy” as in Catalonia. Done sensibly differently and often with a different type of tomato. The Spanish version uses a cheese grater to pick up the pulp from the tomato. There is also other variations like the one in Majorca, where they slice tomatoes, add it to bread and top it with olive oil, vinegar, capers and olives, this one is called Pamboli amb Tomàtiga.
Special hanged tomatoes from Catalonia
The tomato used are typically the ones you’ll see hanging on a string at any Catalan market called ramallet (Catalan). This type of tomato has a thicker skin, therefore it can be conserved way longer, the hanging factor also help to preserve them. The skin loses water and thickens, resulting in a concentrated interior which taste sweeter and bolder than most tomatoes. Plus, it has the perfect texture, once rubbing it on the bread, the pulp just breaks apart easily and evenly leaving the skin behind. It also gives the bread this uniform “tomato topping” without too much “water”, that most tomatoes are filled with. The perfect tomato for this dish! At home, I would suggest an Italian pear style tomato to reproduce this dish or any sweet type of tomato that doesn’t contain crazy amount of water.
The two main bread types used in Catalonia for pan con tomate is whether a flat bread or a round loaf. But really… the most important is to use a good “artisanal” type of bread, its form doesn’t ultimately matter. I, personally, prefer the flat bread, and most restaurant do too. It’s crust is crunchy and interior fluffy with lots of holes to trap the pulp in. There are also two ways to toast the bread, whether you do it lightly in the toaster or oven or often used in the Masia, or rural restaurants with the round loaf type of bread, grilled lightly on the BBQ. Remember it was originally made to revamp dry bread, it should not taste like toasted bread so go easy on the toasting, the bread should stay relatively white.
This dish is usually consumed with other tapas, but also as an appetizer or side dish to a full dish. In rural restaurants, they’ll bring you the grilled bread, tomato, garlic, olive oil and salt separated at the table and let you make your own pan con tomate. Most times, they offer a garlic clove with it, which you can rub on the bread before adding the tomato, but the big majority of Catalans won’t use it.
So.. let’s make this Catalan ritual going!
Pa amb Tomàquet | Pan con tomate
For this recipe, I’ve made 3 versions of pan con tomate: the “Traditional Catalan way”, the “Spanish way” and the ” The new ‘garlicky’ way”.
- The Traditional Catalan way consist of flat bread or round loaf bread lightly toasted. Than cut a meaty tomato on its length into two and rub it on the bread, add a good extra-virgin olive oil and some salt. Voila!
- The new way consist of an added step of scrapping a sliced garlic clove on the bread before rubbing the tomato. Do not over do it, it’s quite powerful. Finish it up the “Catalan way”. Keep the garlic for later use.
- The Spanish way consist of lightly toasted bread. Cut the tomato into two and with the help of a cheese grater, collect the pulp of the tomato in a bowl. Add the tomato mixture to the bread with a spoon, topped with some extra-virgin olive oil and salt. (this version has a thicker amount of tomato)
Serve with tapas, or any Spanish dish!