Monday, November 24, 2008

Pan Tomate

This Catalan "dish" is about as simple as you can get, and yet it's one of my favorite appetizers because it's so fun to make, especially with a big group of people.

I was introduced to Pan Tomate (literally "tomato bread") while staying with the family of a friend in a little village way up in the Pyrénées. They were wonderful people with a very lively family full of small children and animals. And Chantal (my friend's aunt) certainly knew how to cook! Every meal she served was sumptuous, fun, and far more food than we could possibly eat. But we gave our best efforts!

Even with all the fancy cooking, my favorite dish was this simple appetizer which came, as they told me, from the typical workman's lunch in the region. The way they explained it, the men's wives would set them off in the morning with a hunk of bread and some tomatoes, and at lunchtime the men would use their work knives to slice the tomatoes in half and then rub the halves all over the bread. A very practical way to get a nice, fresh meal without having to come home!

We ate pan tomat in the same way, rubbing the tomatoes on ourselves, and that's what makes this dish so fun, despite the sparsity of its ingredients. I highly recommend this for largish dinners with family, friends, and of course, good wine. As this can be somewhat messy, it is not advisable for fancy dinner parties where you're trying to impress people, but those aren't nearly as enjoyable as the other kind!

You will need:
A couple of loaves of good, fresh bread. High-quality bread is important here (and in my mind, everywhere else as well). The bread should have a good hard crust. Otherwise, tomato juice will get all over you!
Several fresh tomatoes. I recommend medium-sized round tomatoes - the kind you would put in a salad.
Olive oil
Several slices of prosciutto crudo (or jambon de pays, as we called it there), again of high quality. The prosciutto is optional, but I think it's a nice addition, especially for special occasions.

Cut the bread into largish hunks, and then slice the hunks down the middle, so that each piece has crust on the bottom. Place the bread into one or more baskets for people to grab from. Wash the tomatoes and slice them into halves, or quarters if they're large, and place them into one or more bowls, just like the bread. You could also have people slice their own tomatoes at the table, but that might get a bit complicated. As it is, this dish requires a lot of passing around of olive oil, salt, etc.

Put out the olive oil and salt, along with the bread and the tomatoes, and a plate with the prosciutto if desired.

Pour everyone a generous glass of wine (featured here is a lovely prosecco - carpené malvolti di conegliano).

Next, demonstrate for your guests how to make pan tomat: take a hunk of bread and drizzle a bit of olive oil onto it. It's not important to spread the olive oil out evenly because the tomato-spreading will take care of that. Sprinkle salt onto the olive oil. Then, with gusto, take a tomato half and rub it all over the bread, leaving the leftover tomato on if you want, though that's not necessary. Top the tomatoed bread with a slice of prosciutto, take a good sip of wine, and eat, encouraging your guests to do the same!

Ideally, this appetizer course should go on quite a bit, with lots of tomato-rubbing and merry-making.


Bellini Valli said...

The Greeks have a dish just like this too...sometimes they add a little cheese but then it is called something else:D

Zoe said...

Interesting. It never occurred to me to add cheese. I'll have to try that next time!