Pan con tomate/pa amb tomaquet, literally bread with tomato, is a rustic tomato toast from Catalonia (in northern Spain…Barcelona is the capital) that popped up on my radar last summer. Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen posted about it in her blog series on her trip to Spain…and I immediately dismissed it. In my world—which is a gardenless, Northern European, English Channel-y world where really, really good tomatoes are hard to come by and the season is make-you-weep short—grated tomatoes on toast seemed unnecessarily extravagant (and even wasteful), especially when whole slices are so much easier, so much more filling, and so very divine.

Then David Tanis of the NY Times weighed in with his take on pan con tomate. I read his article avidly, went back to Smitten Kitchen’s version, and suddenly had a vision of a huge platter of my own pinkish tomato toast that I could take to our monthly neighborhood get-together by the beach. It would wow! It would impress! It would make enough for all 30 or so of the neighbors attending! It would let me use up all that stale bread piling up on my counter! And…perhaps most importantly…it would be a way to sidestep the fact that my oven is out of order and I’m down to a hot plate for making meals.

Both the Smitten Kitchen and NYT tomato toast recipes mention the classic method for making pan con tomate, which is to rub the toast slices first with a clove of garlic, then with a halved tomato. Both then go with another technique which calls for grating tomatoes and spreading the pulp on slices of toast. I tried both (or should I say, I tried all three since Mr. Tanis’ version has sliced tomatoes on top as well), ate too much pan con tomate than I care to admit while taste-testing, and found that there wasn’t one ‘right’ way of making it. It was really a question of toast vs. tomatoes. The grated tomato version was a little more like bruschetta (and a lot more like bruschetta with the sliced tomatoes on top) and much more tomato-ey. The rubbed-on tomato toasts were toast-forward…and I could see why pan con tomate would be served at breakfast. One thing was true for all the recipes: they needed to be assembled while the toast was warm (even if they were served cold) so the heat could tame the garlic and let the bread absorb more of the tomato juices.

For the beach party, I ultimately opted for the rubbed-on, rustic recipe for pan con tomate— easier to make, easier to carry over the sand. It was such a hit that my neighbors barely touched the marinated anchovies I served along with it—and in this neighborhood of former fishermen, former fishmongers, and all around seafood lovers, that preference speaks volumes.

about 12 slices day-old country or rustic bread (something with a fair amount of body)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 large beefsteak or heirloom tomato, cut into quarters
salt, pepper
olive oil for drizzling, optional

Toast the bread in a toaster or in a 350˚F/180˚C oven until light brown and crisp. Hold the garlic clove by the sprout end, and rub each slice of bread all over with the garlic while still warm.

Rub each garlic toast with a tomato quarter until the surface is juicy and lightly covered with tomato pulp. Discard the skins (which will end up in your hands).

Spinkle the toasts with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil, if desired. Serve immediately. (Made this way, the bread tends to dry out in a couple of hours.)