BREAD AND TOMATO


Grill some bread; rub it with a (peeled) clove of garlic; rub a squishy tomato over it; add some olive oil; pour a glass of rough red wine; then eat the garlicky, tomato-y bread, alternating with sips or indeed swigs of wine. This is the "Mediterranean diet" stripped to its essentials, and it's eaten all around the Middle Sea. For collectors of exotic languages, it's called pa amb tomaquet (bread with tomato) in Catalunya and hobz biz-zeit (bread with oil) in Malta, where they often use tomato purée (kunserva, ideally home made) instead of fresh tomato.  


Bread with tomato. The idea for this piece came as I was preparing lunch. I had already taken a picture of the whole thing without the olives; started to eat it; and I realized I'd forgotten the olives. Hence the dirty knife. The tomatoes were bought at a vide-grenier: someone presumably had a glut in their garden and was selling them in all their multicoloured glory at 1€ a kilo.


For a fancy version, prepare a mixture of coarsely chopped tomato, plus any or all of the following: chopped fresh basil, chopped anchovy, capers and black olives, all mixed together in a bowl beforehand. If you're using stone-in olives, you may care to put them on top after assembling the rest of the dish (see above), to avoid breaking your teeth on the stones. Or take the stones out. 

Now grill the bread (you need a big, thick piece, so toasters are rarely sufficient); rub with garlic, as before; pour some olive oil over it; and immediately, before it has gone soggy, tip the tomato mixture over it. Add olives if necessary. Eat immediately. 

Quantities are obviously "whatever you've got" but for two people or one hungry person guide quantities would be at least one large, reasonably thick slice of bread per person; a couple of big tomatoes; a single large clove of garlic; a small handful of fresh basil; one anchovy fillet, or one whole boned anchovy (the ones preserved in salt work best); a teaspoon or so of capers; five or ten black olives (I prefer Greek-style, but Frances prefers them in brine); and a tablespoon or two (or four) of extra virgin olive oil, preferably very strong flavoured. 

Don't  use anything other than extra virgin olive oil, and at that, don't use weak, cheap olive oils. It removes the point. My favourite olive oils are Palestinian or Cretan (both hard to find), followed by Portuguese and Spanish. All but the best Italian oils tend to be weaker in flavour: some popular brands are both overrated and overpriced, especially in the United States. The best French oils are excellent but staggeringly expensive (and no better than Greek or Iberian); lesser French oils are comparable with lesser Italian oils.

The best bread in the world for this is Maltese hobz, cooked in a wood-fired oven, but any coarse bread will do. In France I normally cut gros pain (huge, 1 kilo loaves, 1.99€ each at my local supermarket) into thick slices, but I have also used leftover, toasted ciabatta and other country breads. You can freeze fresh or even slightly stale bread after slicing it: store it in a Ziploc or similar plastic bag and grill it directly from frozen.

If the bread is grilled properly, so that it begins to dry out as well as going crunchy on the outside, it will rasp the garlic quite quickly and efficiently: two big slices, rubbed on both sides, can absorb a whole clove. If there's any spare, chop it up and chuck it in with the tomatoes, basil, etc. 

Variations are infinite. You can use sun-dried tomatoes, or just eat the bread with garlic and oil. Some people even omit the garlic. Others don't toast the bread beforehand. It depends on how poor you are, and how simple your tastes.


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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016