When I was sixteen, I was involved in a Spanish exchange through my school. Sadly, my exchange partner so hated living with my
dysfunctional complex family that she only stayed for a night, before moving in with her twin sister and exchange partner down the road. A new partner was found for me in the shape of a wiry, Catalan judo champ called Sergio, who made my trip to Barcelona a hoot; along with my school friend, Emma, and her chain-smoking exchange partner, Anna, we spent the nights dancing in clubs till the sun came up, and the days staring soporifically at Miros in a haze of the Basque youth’s cocktail of choice, kalimotxo (a cheerful mix of cheap cola and even cheaper red wine). And we ate Catalan bread. Lots and lots of Catalan bread.
Known locally as pa amb tomàquet, Catalan bread is a variation of the greatest thing people do in countries that grow the greatest tomatoes. It’s equivalent to the Italian bruschetta (only easier) and the yin to our oh-so-English cucumber sandwich yang. (Because we do grow ever such good cucumbers.) And very recently, whilst holidaying on the sunlit island of Mallorca (where they serve it in every tapas bar, restaurant and home), I rediscovered my love for Catalan bread.
A year ago, The Mother-in-Law inherited her Step-Mother’s apartment in Palma Nova, a dystopian paradise slapped on the beautiful Balearic isle. Perfectly preserved in the expat spirit of the 1970s – as if it had been shrink wrapped for thirty years or embalmed in a bottle of Campari – the place was comfortably kitted out to accommodate two shrinking, gin-swigging folk.
(You know, one working electric hob, Julio Iglesias on vinyl, and a fax machine should you wish to contact the 1980s.) Not the 7 of us who descended upon its fragile bones 2 weeks ago.
If you’ve ever shared a small thirty-year old bed with a hairy man and two wild children for a week, in 100 degree heat whilst breast feeding the smallest child every 15 minutes, then you’ll understand why, every morning at the same restaurant, I was glad to rekindle the old tomatoey flame that is Catalan bread. Alongside the cardinal café con leche pick-me-up, it offered a moment of reflective calm in what was a summer holiday (or unholiday?) of 7 sleepless nights. That the restaurant offered unrestricted views across the beach to ‘Banana Hammock’ – the name we endowed the man who refused to/could not sit down because his penis was so debilitatingly enormous – was, naturally, a BIG bonus. Needless to say, The Mother-in-Law was captivated. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a photograph. I’m sorry.)
3-4 slices of proper bread (I like a rich, chewy rye or a wholemeal for this. My current favourite seen here: the sesame and wholemeal sourdough from Bristol’s Hart’s Bakery)
1 ripe bull’s heart, beef or plum tomato
1 clove of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Method (although it’s so easy, you’d probably work it out)
Brush the slices of bread with a light drizzle of olive oil. Then rub a clove of garlic over them.
Grill the bread on both sides (ideally on a barbecue or open fire but the oven will do).
Cut the tomato in half and rub the seeds and flesh into the bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and more oil if you desire.
Serve with excellent green olives and coffee for breakfast. Or with wine for when you’re feeling fine.