I've been thinking a lot about simple foods because it's summer and it's hot and things should be easy in summer. The lush ripeness of the produce this time of year needs little to be accentuated, and so I'm drawn to things that are cool, quick, and can be lazily scooped onto good bread. I've been thinking a lot about tomatoes because they're in abundance this time of year and there's hardly anything better in the world than a great late summer tomato that's bright and bursting with juice. This reminded me of something my friend Helene had once written about a snack she liked to make while spending a summer in Spain, which showcased the beauty and coolness of the tomato with very little added. Here she's graciously granted me to share her words on the subject and her recipe.
The first time I had pan con tomate was at James and Elisabet’s old apartment in Dublin. I found it hard to understand how this was one of James’ favourite things from Spain (originating, along with Liz, from Catalonia), especially as it was presented alongside a feast of deliciously rich food. Amazing how quickly habits and tastes change in different climates. We’re progressing quickly towards high summer heat, and every day I feel more thawed out, starting to relax into the fact that the summer will remain hot, the sun will stay out. I feel at home in Madrid, was relieved to leave humid Valencia. It’s an unknowable thing whether a new place will feel like home and I’m grateful that Madrid does after such a short time. The tomatoes, riper and more flavourful than I’ve ever tasted, are from the vegetable shop on our nearest plaza, where the shopkeepers are familiar with our long list of patchy spanish pronunciations - they correct each word and make us repeat after them ‘cebolla, cebolla’, as a way of conversing, I think, and call us chicos. We get our olive oil from the shop nearby selling solely olive oil. And so forth with the other ingredients most days - the honey shop, the butcher, the cheesemonger. The supermarket is only for toilet paper and cheap wine. If you are in a hot country, enjoying a warm summer, this is for you. It’s cooling like an ice-pop. Traditionally the tomato is rubbed directly onto the bread, but I like the extra juices obtained by grating. It’s a simple thing, but each ingredient is important.
- crusty baguette (ends cut off, cut into four pieces and then each piece sliced horizontally)
- two ripe tomatoes
- good olive oil
- flaky salt
Cut each tomato in half and slice out the stem. Grate the halves and discard the skin. Drizzle olive oil on the baguette, top with a few spoonfuls of tomato, sprinkle on some flaky salt and grind over some pepper.
Eat in your bare feet.