Wednesday, September 3, 2008

No Such Thing As a Free Lunch

There were a few things about growing up between two cultures that were confusing to me as a small child. When eating out here in the US, there were free refills, tap water, and tons of bread and butter. But little else was free unless there was a dead fly or a hair in it. In Spain, a meal out meant a friendly greeting and despite the dollar fifty charge for bread and butter, a delicious assortment of tapas on the house. Exactly what tapas you got really depended on the region of Spain and the establishment in particular, but it could be anything from a plate of Serrano ham, to a bowl of olives, and if you're lucky and in a coastal town, even a paper cone filled with tiny fried fish.

On many occasions, one of the tapas that made it's way to the table was a simple dish called pan tumaca. This dish is not unlike a bruschetta, only the ingredients are much more pared down and not chopped up and sitting on top of a crostini. In this version, the crusty country bread is toasted or grilled and rubbed down with raw garlic. It permeates and perfumes the bread without forcing you to bite into a big raw chunk of it. The tomato is similarly applied, first cut in half and rubbed onto the bread, then lightly squeezed so that tiny droplets of pulp rain over the bread. A drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt to finish completes the classic version of pan tumaca (often just called pan con tomate), but I like the slightly more sophisticated version served around Barcelona.

Soft ribbons of silky Serrano ham adorn the top of this dish and add a lovely hint of saltiness to balance the sweetness of the tomatoes. It plays well with a splosh of fruity Spanish olive oil, and doesn't even need any additional salt. The garlic is subtle and takes on a spicy bite that hits right on your tastebuds. A dish like this is a perfect way to use any extra tomatoes you may have hanging around now that they're in season. You don't even have to use traditional red tomatoes--yellow or even differnt types of heirlooms would do just as good a job (and an assorment would look really pretty at a party). They're at their peak now, so a dish that uses them when they're perfectly to slightly over ripe and raw (yum!) is great for this time of year. Here's how I made mine:

Pan Tumaca

1/2 a loaf rustic style bread, sliced about 1/2 inch thick
4 ripe tomatoes, cut in half
6 cloves of garlic, cut in half
1/4 lb thin sliced Serrano ham (prosciutto works in a pinch)
extra virgin olive oil (the best, fruitiest kind you have)

1. Toast or grill bread until browned and crunchy. Rub bread on one side with garlic (cut side down).

2. Rub each slice with tomato (cut side down), squeezing some of the tomato pulp onto the bread. Drizzle with olive oil and top with a slice of ham. Enjoy!


No comments: