Pa amb tomaquet

Although I personally -unfortunately- can't eat wheat, it is one of the staples of the Mediterranean diet. The gluten-free craze forgets that wheat is a traditional, even sacred food in many cultures, eaten for millennia. It's most probably the quality of contemporary wheat that has caused so much digestive trouble for so many (Dan Barber talks about this a lot in the wonderful book I'm reading).

In most of my workshops -especially the ones focused on Catalan cuisine- we make pa amb tomaquet, bread with tomato, which I always say is the best thing the Catalans ever invented. Such a simple food, yet it makes so much sense. Four basic ingredients: bread, tomato, olive oil, salt. The key is in the quality of the ingredients; your bread with tomato will shine in proportion to how good your bread, tomatoes, oil and salt are.


Take a slice of bread, toast it (or, if you have it on hand, use stale bread, which is supposedly the origin of this traditional dish; a resourceful way to recycle leftover bread gone hard). Cut a juicy tomato in half, and squeeze and rub it against the slice of toast. Top with a drizzle of the best extra virgin olive oil you can find, and finish with a sprinkle of salt (there are so many fancy ones to choose from now, but you don't have to go too fancy here; although flaky Maldon salt is my favorite for added crunch).

Enjoy as is, for breakfast, snack, or with a meal. It's a crowd-pleasing appetizer (in fact, in my workshops people usually munch on it before we sit down to the family meal), but also pairs with anything and everything on a plate. Or, top with oil-packed anchovies (from L'Escala or Cantabria), Spanish ham, or thin slices of Idiazabal cheese. Or any other topping your heart desires (an olive and caper tapenade, any cured meat or cheese, or even something sweet like quince paste and ricotta). Use the same technique for sandwiches and forget about mayo (especially if it's an industrial one). Most Americans tend to love the variation which adds garlic as the second ingredient: slice a clove of garlic in half and rub it one the bread right before you do the tomato juice (the garlicky flavor will only rub off if the bread is still hard): I prefer the more simple version myself. Yesterday at the Good Eggs pop-up market in Berkeley I picked up a loaf of gluten-free sourdough from Bread SRSLY and guess what I'm going to do with the amazing tomatoes appearing at the farmers markets and in my Riverdog Farm CSA these days?

Yup, you guessed it! Even the folks at Bartavelle, my favorite local café, are picking up tips from the Catalans these days: