PA AMB TOMÀQUET: Grilled Bread with Olive Oil, Tomato and Jamón Serrano

It was only a matter of time before we reached the FIFA World Cup (and Saucer) — Spain!  What a fabulous country, and not only for the football. As I’m sure you can imagine, my affection for Spain has far less to do with sporting than small, shareable plates. It’s so easy to convince myself that I’ve been virtuous and restrained with my appetite, as if I *didn’t* eat the equivalent of four meals whilst munching on wee little palm-sized portions….for three hours straight…..isn’t tapas the best?

My favorite tapas plates are rustic and regional.  The bare simplicity of a rustic tapas allows good quality ingredients to shine, and acts as an ominous warning to your inner cheapskate. For example, Pa Amb Tomàquet are small toasts that thumb their noses at inferior olive oil, and will actually lock themselves in the bathroom and refuse to come out if you suggest making them with jaundiced looking store bought January tomatoes. When you’re making a dish like this, so basic and straightforward that it seems to qualify more as a procedure than a recipe, you will be amazed at the difference that good quality ingredients can make.  Go ahead and splurge. Buy the best aged Spanish serrano ham that you can find and afford. preferably one that is richly marbled and flavorful.  Dust off the top-shelf bottle of extra virgin olive oil that you zealously protect for only the most exquisite finishing touches.  If you don’t have sun ripened sweet tomatoes, save this recipe for another month or two until you do.  This calls for the juiciest, sweetest, tumescent tomatoes that are just shy of being over ripe and softening into a pulp.  Believe me, the difference in flavor is worth it.

This version of Pa Amb Tomàquet is actually a bit of a hybrid, but such is the luxury of being a home cook. I can easily shrug and say, “Whatever. This isn’t Catalonian, it’s Tinalonian. Now who needs another glass of that Rioja wine?”  We started with Pa Amb Oli, a Balearic iteration of toast which translates to “bread with oil”.  A dark bread, usually rye, is toasted, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. Simple, yet divine.  The Catalan Pa Amb Tomàquet uses a toasted white country loaf, rubbed with tomato, drizzled with olive oil, and sometimes gilded with a shaving of jamón serrano, marinated anchovy or sliced cheese.  Traditionalists will argue heatedly over the process order (tomato and then oil? Oil then tomato? Both sides or one? To salt or not to salt? SO MANY QUESTIONS!!) and the mere suggestion of grazing the bread with garlic would be met by scandalized silence.  However, we like to live on the edge of cultural abomination, so garlic and ham it is.


grilled bread rubbed with olive oil and tomato, topped with serrano ham

Serves 4-6 as a light tapas appetizer

  • 1 baguette style loaf crusty bread
  • 2 large or 3 medium cloves garlic
  • 4 medium perfectly ripe tomatoes *
  • 1/3 cup best extra virgin olive oil
  • 6-8 large slices serrano ham **

* My favorite tomatoes for this are Campari, because they tend to be reliably sweet and juicy. The smaller size also makes them easier to manage and fully disembowel onto the bread.

* I love anchovies, but I find that when serving this to guests the ham is an easier sell.  If you cannot find jamón serrano, or your favorite dry cured Spanish ham, you can substitute high quality Italian prosciutto, but try to furtively avoid answering any questions about where it came from. In terms of net weight, you will only need about 75 grams, or slightly less than 3 ounces.

Slice the bread on an angle into 12-16 pieces that are 3/4″ thick.  Grill the slices over a moderately high heat for 1-2 minutes per side, or until they are warm, golden, and just slightly charred.  The outdoor grill lends just a hint of sexy, smoky flavor to the bread, but if you are an apartment dweller you can always broil the bread in your oven about 4″ away from the heat for 30 seconds per side.

If you have any corners that are, *ahem*, slightly TOO charred, just lightly scrape off the blackened bits with a butter knife.

Slice your tomatoes in half.  Peel the garlic cloves and cut each one in half or give it a gentle smash with the flat side of your knife.

Rub one side of the toasted bread all over with the cut side of a garlic clove until it has a slight glisten.  Drizzle each slice with olive oil, and please don’t be a skinflint. Remember, if you’re going to shell out for an expensive extra virgin olive oil, you might as well use enough to taste the difference.

Rub the bread with the cut side of the tomato, squeezing lightly and pressing down just a touch so that each slice is well lubed with tomato love and you can see small bits of pulp and seed.

At this point, you can sprinkle the slices very lightly with salt if you wish. As much as I love salt, I prefer not to because I find the serrano to be salty enough to effectively ‘season’ each bite.

Tear the serrano into smaller strips and lay them astride the bread.

Serve these little toasts immediately or let them sit for 5 minutes to soften.

Try not to stand around looking flummoxed when you see how quickly these beauties disappear.  Such behavior is simply not dignified.

That took, what, about 5 minutes to make?  Don’t let this surprise you. Quality tapas is often ridiculously easy, allowing us to savor and enjoy the simplicity of exceptional ingredients paired well and served without unnecessary flourishes that might muddy up the flavor.

The next time you have friends over to watch a World Cup game, go forth and toast the Spanish team. Just don’t ham it up too much, or you might get pelted with tomatoes.  **insert groans….HERE! **

Happy snacking, everyone!

  • Ivy

    This is a lovely tapas Tina. I was lucky to make it with Iberian ham, sent to me by a Spanish friend.

  • TS of eatingclub vancouver

    Tinalonia! “I want to go to there.”

  • lo

    Oh, comeon. What ISN’T better with a little garlic?
    Mmmm. The mere THOUGHT of that aged serrano is making me a little giddy. Pour me another glass of that rioja and let’s eat!!

  • Tara

    Not to hijack these comments – but I heard on the radio that Ghana has their own version of a taco….would you be planning to bring this to the World Cup (and Saucer)? I’m intrigued!

  • Jan

    1. Thos look delicious. Put them in my belly immediately.
    2. Being a total soccerhead but also a woman, let us note that not only is the team pretty damn good, the players are also ridiculously good-looking. Team Espana? HELLO.

    • Dani

      And not only the national Team. If you like how Spain plays, you better watch any FC Barcelona games! Spain has 8 of their players from this team, and they bases their football to the one Barça does.

      So you better try to find some games! Even more…. this next monday…. is the biggest game in the world. FC Barcelona Vs Madrid here, and it’s gonna be an awesome game.
      Go Barça Go !! 🙂

  • Pingback: Jap Chae: Korean Stirfried Noodles | Choosy Beggars()

  • Tina

    Ivy – you make me jealous! I wish that I had a Spanish friend to send me cured meat products! I bet that was simply delicious with Iberian ham.

    TS – the city gates to Tinalonia are always open. No passport required!

    Lo – my sentiments exactly!

    Tara – you inspired a monster. I have never eaten a Ghanian style taco, but you piqued my curiosity so much that I have taken the internet apart looking for a good recipe to send you, but I’m coming up empty handed. And now I’m sad, because I really, REALLY want to try one.

    Jan – I don’t know if I should admit this, but I rarely look at their faces…. Oh god, that sounded MUCh dirtier than I meant it to be! It’s just that the ball moves really fast so I find it hard enough to focus on that, and if they don’t have nice outfits I lose all interest. However, I bow to your judgements about the aesthetic superiority of the Spanish team!

  • Kathryn

    That looks amazing! You should submit the recipe to Recipe4Living! Each day this month, we’re giving away a t-shirt to our favorite new recipe!

  • Dani

    Hey Ivi, a friend from Connecticut I have met in Sweden when we both have been abroard has upload that link on Facebook. As I am from Barcelona (yes, Catalan thought), I find this article very interesting for everyone, and I have to thank you to give voice of our food, culture and history (yes, Pà amb tomàquet is deffinitelly) because is not usual to find that.

    I think you just forget to talk about Fuet. Fuet uses to go on top of it, and is very nice to eat in slices on top of the bread with tomato.

    I, as you can imagine, love that. Is not even a dish, but as you might know we use to eat it not only with ham, but as well with cheese, or whatever you feel. It mixes well with almost anything! Imagine yourself eating a lovely piece of well grilled pork/cow whatever you like, plus having some pà amb tomàquet with it. Or doing tapas without it? No way!!!!

    Your recipy looks very tasty and good, we can say is the “extra quality” one, right?
    No matter how you make it, Pà amb tomàquet is always very nice to eat, and very cheap and fast to make.

    You know a funny thing? I made some in Sweden and a roomate of me has take one piece of it (it had fuet on top) and then…. he begun to put loads of ketchup in half of the bread!! So you can imagine how mad i get 😉

    I have to add that if you came to Barcelona, you’ll find Pà amb Tomàquet and lots of traditional catalan food (as this, fuet, ham, “carn d’olla”, etc, etc, etc) if you are staying in a 4* (four stars) hotel or more than four included in your breakfast/lunch/dinner menu.

    Again thanks for sharing our culture (in this case our food culture) all over the world!