Why does bruschetta get all the toast-topped-with-tomatoes-and-olive-oil love? Nothing against half of my heritage, but the Spanish version, pan con tomate, deserves some attention too.
Tomatoes seem to be taking their sweet old time to get in gear this year, but with one lone tomato hanging out on my counter and having eaten my fill of tomato and lettuce sandwiches (for now anyways, I’m still planning a grand BLT with everything either grown or made by me. Yes, including the bacon and the mayonnaise), pan con tomate seemed like a perfect option. It helps that I’m obviously on a Spanish food kick lately.
Everyone’s pretty familiar with bruschetta at this point–toasted bread (where bruschetta gets its name) rubbed with garlic and usually topped with diced tomatoes, sometimes basil, and drizzled with olive oil. That’s the idea anyways. The concept has become so diffused that it seems like anything on a piece of bread shows up as bruschetta on a menu or in a Google search. Pan con tomate, on the other hand, at least requires tomatoes to be part of the equation.
Instead of dealing with my complete inability to ever keep the pieces of tomato from falling onto my clothes or the floor when I eat bruschetta (or requiring me to use a knife and fork, which is equally awkward), pan con tomate has you rub a tomato in all its juicy splendor right into the crusty bread. That is, of course, after a clove of raw garlic has been rubbed all over the toast that would, in any other application, tear up the inside of your mouth but instead grabs onto tiny bits of garlic. Rubbing the tomato into the bread is the messy part in this version, but it’s kind of fun. And at least more of the tomato has a fighting chance of getting to my mouth.
Think this sounds like a recipe for soggy bread? Well…you’re not wrong, but if you toast it enough (or use day-old or slightly stale bread, which this is ideal for), the tomato juices soften the top and edges enough so that you aren’t risking a mouthful of tiny cuts with each bite. The inside of the bread retains some welcome texture and chew and, unlike bruschetta, which is more often just a vehicle for its toppings, pan con tomate actually melds the bread, garlic, and tomato into one delicious bite.
Top it with a generous drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of flaky salt, add a gin and tonic (I saw more of these than of glasses of sangria in Barcelona), throw in a sunset view, and you’ve got about all I need on a summer night (with apologies to anyone who talked to me after dinner. Only in hindsight did it occur to me that I essentially ate several raw cloves of garlic.). Ok, maybe a salad or some slices of good Spanish cheese, ham, a spicy dried, cured meat…I’m sorry, where were we? Right, tomato bread.
Pan con Tomate, or Tomato Bread
As simple as it gets. Some recipes call for using a box grater for the tomatoes (or, worse, grating the tomatoes, piling it on the bread, then scraping it off. What? No. Why?). I hate pulling out my grater and that sounds even messier than just rubbing the tomato on the bread. The only tools you need are your hands, a knife to cut the bread and tomato, and something to turn bread into toast (grill? broiler? toaster? Searzall? tiny dragon? take your pick).
Sturdy white bread without too many big holes, sliced about 1/2-inch thick
Whole garlic cloves, peeled (1 small clove per bread slice, or 1/2 of a large clove)
Tomato, sliced in half (1 large tomato should cover 4 bread slices)
Good olive oil
Slices of cheese, ham, or other cured meat (optional)
Toast bread on both sides using a grill or your oven’s broiler until bread is deeply golden brown. While bread is still warm, rub garlic vigorously over the bread until only a small nub of garlic remains. Rub each bread slice with the tomato until just the tomato skin is left (give the tomato a good squeeze to get any last drops of tomato goodness on the bread. Drizzle everything generously with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky salt. Eat plain or top with cheese or meat.