So, yes, recently Mr. T and I returned from a wee vacation in Spain with the rest of the family T. And, while there was allegedly internet access (via “dongle”), it wasn’t all that reliable and there were so many other pressing things to do… playing with adorable the niecelet, conquering castles, eating tiny fish, and, uhm, sitting on the beach, sitting by the pool, etc.

In any case, though, how about a lovely little snack for when you’re not doing any of those things, but would like to be? Direct from Spain–or Catalonia, depending on where you are and who you ask–and far more than the sum of its admittedly humble parts. This is one of those, “really, this is going to be tasty?” recipes. I mean, at it’s most basic, it’s just a piece of toast with garlic and tomato smushed into it.

Doesn’t sound that all that appealing, really. But it is. Crunchy bread; hot, pungent garlic; sweet, juicy tomato. It’s really got everything–particularly when you opt to lay on a few olives or bits of anchovy. Even better!

As with all simple things, this one really depends on the quality of your ingredients. You want a nice, big, end of season tomato that, hello, tastes like a tomato. A nice, knarly-looking heirloom that might just be a bit too soft for salads? Perfect.

Your bread should also be beyond reproach–a nice simple country loaf will do fine. Avoid sourdough. Use the finest salt and olive oil that you have, and if you’re going to garnish with anchovies or olives (and I suggest that you do) for lord’s sake use good ones.

The below recipe is for two slices of bread. Obviously, this can be multiplied several times over with ease, and the finished slices could be cut into smaller pieces for a cocktail ‘do and that would be totally bueno. Just remember that they shouldn’t sit around too long. The bread should still be warm and the tomato should only penetrate so far. There’s no magic in cold, soggy bread; so serve them up as you make them with sunshine and panache.

Pa amb Tomàquet (Catalan Bread with Tomato)
Yield: 2 servings

1 large (softball-sized) ripe tomato
2 3/4″ thick slices of rustic country bread (NOT sourdough)
1 large clove garlic
1 tsp good-quality extra virgin olive oil
2 pinches flaky finishing salt (Maldon, fleur de sel, etc.)
3 anchovy fillets or a few olives (optional)

First, address your tomato. Put a box grater in a medium bowl. Core and halve your tomato and inspect carefully. If it’s terribly seedy, remove some of the seeds and their liquid. Carefully rub the tomato, cut side down, against the large holes of the box grater. The pulp and remaining seeds will go through into the bowl, the skin will not. (I was deeply skeptical about this process at first, but I was left with just the tomato skins at the end, as well–I might add–as my own. So, hooray for that.) Peel your garlic clove and set aside.

If you’re using the optional anchovies or olives (one or the other, probably), rinse them gently and pat dry, then halve lengthwise and set aside. (Directions apply for both anchovies and olives, you’ll end up with six thin anchovy slices or a handful of halved olives.)

Grill, broil, or toast your bread (in that order of preference). We’re looking for crusty and golden on both sides, with some lovely grill marks if you can manage it. As I have neither grill nor grill pan, I broiled my bread and the world didn’t end.

When (just) cool enough to handle, rub one side of the bread with the garlic and spoon some of the tomato mixture on top. You’ll want an even layer about, oh, 1/4″ thick. Some will soak in. ‘Tis fine. Sprinkle the tomato’d bread with salt and drizzle lightly with the oil. Stud with olive halves or drape with anchovy slices and serve immediately.

Notes and Variations
Traditionalists will just apply the cut tomato half to the bread after it’s been rubbed with garlic. This would, I think, be fine, if you’re a Catalan goat herder or on a camping trip. If neither of these situations apply, however, go the box grater route; it gives you much more control over the consistency–and thus flavor–of the tomato, which I think is worthwhile.