Beautiful architecture. Charming countryside. Scenic coastline. Tapas. Sherry. Paella. It’s a pretty magnificent place. But…
I’ve never been.
Coming up in a few weeks in the little town of Brunol (near Valencia) is the annual city-wide tomato fight, La Tomatina. Every year during the last week in August, a huge festival is thrown celebrating my favorite vegetable (ok, it’s a fruit), the tomato. And on Wednesday of that week, a massive tomato fight takes place in town, where over 100,000 tons of over-ripe tomatoes are used to plaster the buildings, flood the streets and paint the participants red with all of their tomato glory.
La Tomatina marks the beginning of the week-long festival, which doesn’t officially start until someone climbs up a two story-high greased up pole and grabs a big ham. See, this is why I love Europe.
When I finally get a chance to visit this remarkable country, I need to go to La Tomatina. I need to participate in the fight and experience the festival.
People say its pretty brutal, actually. You need to wear protective goggles and gloves to keep your eyes from stinging and your fingers from pruning. But I don’t care, it still ranks high on my bucket list.
I figure, why not just enter the tomato fight with a loaf of crusty bread and olive oil and feast on tomato bread the whole time?
Wait. Do you know about tomato bread??
Because, you need to.
Pan con Tomate or Tomato with Bread is a classic dish from Catalonia. It is ridiculously simple to put together, and the outcome relies mainly on the quality of each ingredient. Good bread. Good tomatoes. Good garlic. Good olive oil. Good salt. Maybe some fresh herbs and pepper if you’re feeling sassy. That’s it.
It’s a great way to use up tomatoes that are on their way out- maybe just a little too ripe for a salad, but still a day or so away from being totally gone. Simply toast some bread, rub it with a clove of garlic, then rub it with the cut side of a tomato, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and devour.
Come on Nicole! Only your third blog post and already another recipe – that’s not even really a recipe – for tomatoes on toasted bread?! I know. Fear not my friends, I have the rest of the year to give you some more interesting recipes with hard to find ingredients and complex instructions.
This is what I’m eating right now. And if you want to eat something really delicious, you will make it too. It will taste just like summer in Spain.
…Or at least what I imagine it tastes like.
Pan Con Tomato (tomato bread)
Rustic, crusty bread, cut into 1 inch thick slices
1-2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half
1 large or two smaller, very ripe tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil for brushing and drizzling
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) for sprinkling
Freshly ground pepper (optional)
Brush each slice of bread with a little bit of olive oil and toast – either in a toaster, the oven, or my preferred method, on the grill. While the bread is still hot, rub the cut end of the garlic all over. Next, slice the tomato in half and liberally rub the cut side all over the bread. Drizzle with plenty of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
*A quick note on olive oil: The quality of your olive oil really does matter, especially for a dish like this. Most chefs, like myself, keep at least two to three bottles of olive oil handy to use for different purposes. One less expensive, milder (but still extra virgin) olive oil used for cooking, marinades, etc. Then a bottle of top notch, super flavorful “finishing oil”. This is what you use to pour on top of salads, pizza, meats, fish, etc. right before serving. I like to have one stronger, more peppery and pungent oil for heartier dishes, and one lighter, grassier oil for more delicate foods. NERD ALERT! I belong to an olive oil club, which I highly recommend joining if you are a big fan of the stuff. The fresh pressed olive oil club delivers 3 bottles of the freshest olive oil available right to your door, once every quarter. They travel the world in search of the best olive oils being produced each year, and send them out after they are freshly pressed during the harvest. In September come Australian oils, December- the Italian oils, in March the Spanish/Portuguese oils, and then in June, the Chilean oils. I have found the oils from Chile to my be favorite, so much so that I just ordered a second batch of even bigger bottles. You can see them pictured above. Each oil is slightly different in flavor- one bold, one mild, and one in between. The oils are of top notch quality, and unlike any you’ve probably ever tried. Especially if you only go for the bargain bin bottles at the grocery store (which may not even be olive oil! Read up on olive oil adulteration here).
*the fresh pressed olive oil club did not pay me to endorse their product, I just really, really like it. but if someone from the company reads this and wants to send me some olive oil, then by all means, go right ahead.