To make pan con tomate the authentic Catalán way is simple but the choice of tomato is very important. Read on to find out everything you need to know about this tasty side dish!
A few years ago when I asked my husband which Spanish recipes I should include on the blog pan con tomate was his first suggestion. That’s dumb, I thought. Rubbing tomato on toast is not a recipe.
Turns out that I’m the one who’s dumb. There are A LOT of people searching google for pan con tomate and 90% of the recipes available do it the “wrong” (I say that tongue in cheek) way.
Furthermore, most recipes are very unspecific about the type of tomato and bread that are usually used to make an authentic pan con tomate recipe.
These details are not insignificant so just like I did with my authentic romesco sauce recipe, I’ve set about to bring you the most comprehensive and informational recipe for how to make Barcelona-style pan con tomate!
What is pan con tomate
Pan con tomate is bread with tomato in English. It’s also called pan tumaca in Spain and pa amb tomàquet in Catalán.
First thing’s first, pan con tomate is often described as a popular Spanish tapa. This is not entirely correct.
Pan con tomate is not considered a tapa is the traditional sense. By that I mean it’s not usually something you’d be offered for free in a bar along with your drink and if you ask a Spanish person give you a list of traditional tapas, they’ll rattle off a bunch of meat and seafood dishes (and maybe padrón peppers) but probably won’t say pan con tomate.
That being said, you can sit down in any bar in Catalonia and order “una tapa de pan con tomate” and they’ll bring you a small plate of tomato bread because a tapa can be a small plate of anything.
However, it’s more usual to order a “ración” of pan con tomate. A ración is a larger portion meant for sharing. Rather than a tapa in and of itself, pan con tomate is more of a side dish when you’re sharing small dishes with friends, as a snack, or to accompany your main dish.
Pan con tomate history
Earlier in this post I insinuated that there’s a right and a wrong way to make pan con tomate. I was (half) joking and referring to the fact that there are two main ways of making pan con tomate in Spain. The Catalán way and everywhere else.
Pan con tomate has it’s origins in Catalonia and is deeply ingrained in Catalán culture. Someone even wrote a whole book about pa amb tomàquet so you know that they take it seriously.
The theory goes that pan con tomate developed from bread drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt that had been present in Mediterranean cuisine since the time of the ancient Greeks.
Because tomatoes are American in origin, they didn’t join in the fun until the 18th century. The first written reference to pan con tomate is in 1884 in rural Catalonia where stale bread was rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil in order to soften it.
The rest of Spain clearly realized how easy, economical and delicious tomato bread is and developed their own variation. This variation is also the one which the internet has exported to the rest of the world under the guise of a Spanish tapa.
Rather than rubbing the tomato directly on the bread, the Spanish method involves grating the tomato and spreading the pulp in a thick layer over toasted bread.
The Spanish variation is equally delicious but if you’ve ever been to Barcelona and are looking for a recipe for the traditional pan con tomate that you tasted here, then read on and let me tell you everything you need to know about how we make it!
What kind of tomato should I use
To make pan con tomate correctly, you need to be smart about the type of tomato that you use. Other recipes will just say “juicy tomatoes”. This is neither clear nor correct.
We use a special variety of tomato called tomàquet de penjar or tomacon in Catalán. In Spanish they’re called tomate de colgar and in English they're referred to as hanging tomatoes or winter storage tomatoes. What’s special about this tomato is that it has a thick skin and is a paste tomato.
The thickness of the skin allows the tomatoes to be preserved for several months without going bad. After harvest the tomatoes are threaded through the stem and hung on a twine in a cool place for up to six months.
Hanging them in this way allows them to lose water and the pulp to concentrate, leaving you with the perfect texture for transferring the pulp to the bread with maximum tomato flavour and little water.
So this is what my pet peeve is about all the other recipes calling for “juicy tomatoes” or “salad tomatoes”. A tomato can be juicy if it has a lot of water and you just end up rubbing bland tomato water all over your bread instead of the pulp. You’ll surely be disappointed with your pan con tomate if that happens!
By now you’re probably thinking: that’s great Melissa but where am I supposed to get these special rubbing tomatoes outside of Spain? Good question, glad you asked!
If you’re a tomato growing enthusiast such as myself, get yourself a packet of seeds and grow them in your backyard (just remember they need to be hung before being eaten).
Otherwise, choose a PASTE tomato from your supermarket. Paste tomatoes are the kind that you use to make sauce rather than salads. When I can’t get penjar tomatoes, my second favourite tomato for making pan con tomate is Roma.
Other examples of paste tomatoes are plum tomatoes, San Marzano and Amish paste. There are lots of types of paste tomatoes and if you have a farmers market nearby you’ll likely find more varieties as well as be able to get them riper and more flavourful than at the supermarket.
How to make pan con tomate
Ok, so now you’ve got your paste tomatoes and you’re ready to make pan con tomate the authentic Catalán way. Great, it’s easy!
You’ll want to use a loaf of nice artisanal bread. You can use either a long loaf or a round one.
At home we prefer a long flat loaf with an open crumb. What do I mean by that? Take a look in the photos and you’ll see that the bread has a lot of large holes in it. When toasted, the open crumb creates lots of jagged edges that grab onto the tomato pulp and each piece has a delicious crispy crust.
You can also use a round loaf if you prefer. We usually use round loafs at barbecues and toast the slices right on the grill before serving.
Whichever type of bread you choose, you first need to lightly toast the slices. If you are making a lot, it’s quicker to do all the slices together in a pan in the oven. If you’re making just a few slices for dinner, the toaster is fine. And if you’re having a bbq, just put them on the grill.
Next, you can lightly rub the toasted bread with a small clove of raw garlic. A lot of people don’t like raw garlic so this is optional. We love garlic so it’s a must for our pan con tomate.
Cut your paste tomato in half and rub the cut side on the bread. Remember, you want the pulp not just the juice so rub it right down to the skin. Make sure you get every bit of the pulp, I’ve been told off many times for being wasteful and leaving too much perfectly good pulp on the skin!
Next drizzle over a bit of good quality olive oil and finish up with a sprinkling of salt. We also like to add a bit of pepper but that’s optional too.
Pan con tomate doesn’t hold up well so it’s best eaten shortly after it’s prepared. If you’re serving this at a large barbecue or get together, you can put out the toast, tomatoes, olive oil, salt and garlic and allow your guests to prepare their own pan con tomate!
- A good quality artisanal loaf of bread with an open crumb (see above for bread choice)
- 1 clove of garlic (optional)
- 2 – 3 ripe paste tomatoes (variety penjar / colgar, Roma, plum, San Marzano, Amish paste, etc.)
- Good quality olive oil
- Pepper (optional)
- If using a long flat loaf of bread, slice it into pieces about 2.5 inches (7 cm) wide (this is just a guideline, you can slice them bigger if you want). Then cut each piece in half to open. If using a round loaf, slice it normally as you would for a sandwich – not too thick, not too thin.
- Lightly toast the bread. If you’re making a lot you can do this in the oven. If not a toaster is fine or on the grill if you’re barbecuing. Note that the bread is lightly toasted, not too dark.
- Optional: if you like garlic, lightly rub each toasted slice with the clove of raw garlic.
- Slice the tomatoes in half horizontally. Rub the tomatoes on the toasted bread, being sure to get as much pulp on the bread as you can and cleaning the tomatoes right down to the skin. It doesn’t need to be a thick layer of tomato on each slice of bread; once the slice is moistened all over with bits of pulp clinging to it you can move on to the next slice. One half of tomato should last you for several slices of bread. You’ve done it right if you’ve just got the skin of the tomato left in your hands.
- Drizzle each slice with a bit of olive oil to taste and then sprinkle with salt. Optional: a sprinkling of pepper.
- Serve immediately.
Pepper is not traditional but we like it.
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