10 oct. Tomato Bread
When we mention pa amb tomàquet, or tomato bread in English, an image springs to mind of red on a golden base – one of the icons of the Mediterranean diet and the insignia dish in Catalan cuisine. The simplicity with which it is prepared does not defer from the fact that to do so really is a ritual. On a slice of pa de pagès farmhouse loaf, we need to add tomato, garlic, olive oil and salt so as to give it that just-right flavour. As it goes with everything it is ideal for accompanying all dishes or even for eating on its own. It is no surprise that when a good plate of pa amb tomàquet is served up, it is the first thing to disappear even before the starter or aperitif arrives.
But where does this delicacy come from?
We need to go back in time to find out that the story of the dish we know so well is actually divided into two parts. The first is before the tomato arrived in Spain from America in the eighteenth century.
In Ancient Greece bread and olive oil were already eaten together, and this custom continued in many parts of the Mediterranean until the seventeenth century. There are references to this such as in the recipes of Jaume Martí Oliver in his essay Modo de cuynar a la mallorquina y su panbolibo, or ‘Mallorcan cooking and its olive oil bread’. This Mediterranean habit is still going strong in many places.
The second part was born in the rural areas of Catalonia, when farmworkers added tomato to their olive oil bread as a way of making their stale bread more appetising, and also as a way of getting through their ample supplies of tomatoes.
It may be hard to believe but something as simple as tomato bread has been written about considerably and is highly valued. Note that Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, a gastronomist par excellence, exalted its virtues in his novel El Premio, saying “a wonder of common culture materialised as the encounter between the culture of European wheat, the American tomato, Mediterranean olive oil and salt; the salt from the land that Christian culture consecrated. This alimentary wonder occurred to the Catalans just over two centuries ago, but with such an awareness of this discovery that they have turned it into a sign of their identity equivalent to their mother tongue or to breast milk” (..) while “us Spanish speaking immigrants adopt tomato bread as an ambrosia which permits us to integrate”.
What is clear is that this remedy for stale bread in olden times has become an actual therapy as well as a gastronomic delicacy. Who does not remember the tradition of a sandwich of tomato bread filled with some exquisite Catalan delicacy, to be carried with us always for school breakfasts, on trips or as an improvised dinner.
Or that thanks to the pa amb tomàquet brand name someone would have the idea of patenting it.
Or even that in the eyes of the Generalitat de Catalunya it is a cultural asset.
The restaurants of the Grup Ferré pay homage to this highly regarded asset, and it takes a rightly deserved pride of place in their menus.