How to make the perfect Spanish tomato bread
pan con tomate in Spanish, or pan tumaca
( pa amb tomàquet in Catalan )
Eaten anytime, from breakfast to supper… and as a great base for tapas and pinchos too !
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Easy, tasty, and pretty healthy too !
This is such a useful dish ( if we could call it as much as that !) to know. Everywhere we go, there’s something so simple, borne out of necessity, or habit, way back in the past. And that habit becomes the basis of some of the best foods in that area. Pan tumaca is one of these special somethings !
So easy to prepare
What you see above, in the picture, is what we were served at our now favourite lunch place in the capital of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. A wonderful little seaside feeling street restaurant that serves the best and simplest foods ( more of that later !). This dish came as an appetiser / snack to go with drinks… better than just serving bread eh! And it was basically a DIY tomato bread.
It’s become a perfect way to break the fast after travelling to the capital to do some necessary department store shopping ( yawn !!). Gives me a reason to go shopping !
The main ingredients for the tomato paste
Tomato bread has usually been served to us ready made, not like this DIY version. But I liked this, and it tasted different, somehow better. I kept asking the waitress if there was something else in the tomato paste above ( like fennel maybe) but they said no… so it’s the usual ingredients… (update several months later when we went back to that same café… it was the bread bun that had fennel seeds in it ! Delicious. )
“Just as in the fairytales, with their self-sweeping brooms and geese that lay golden eggs, the ordinary everyday stuff of life turns out to be the treasure under our noses.”
(quote by Jeanette Winterson… English Author)
How exciting ! I started researching this simple tomato bread, like I do, to find out all the possibilities. It’s a new journey, and I’ll keep updating this post as we develop it more. Right now, we are in Palma, Mallorca. We’re finding one of our favourite tapas is a burrata with green pesto / salsa on tomato bread at Bar España. But the tomato paste on the bread is more of a sun dried tomato, or concentrated purée tomato paste on their bread. And there in one sentence, already, this sums up the totally mediterranean feel of Palma – this tapas gives a sense of Mallorcan and Catalan of course, plus French, Italian, and Spanish mainland – all mixed into one gloriously beautiful place.
So I decided made my first tomato bread here, after our first trip to the open market just 5 mins from the apartment in the old town. Later, I’ll try to develop to that rich version on the tapas from Bar España ( we’re living above it and have already ordered twice in our first weekend – so maybe I’ll get the recipe by the time we leave… sssh!) Keep coming back to check out the variations section below !
And whilst I’m here, I might be keeping my eye open for these gorgeous wee wooden spoons too yumyum !
The simple, traditional recipe
- Drizzle bread with olive Oil
- Griddle / grill / dry pan char / or bake 250F 5-10mins turning halfway
- Rub the bread with garlic
- Add tomato pulp
- Drizzle olive oil
- Add salt
Which is the correct method ?
For such a simple dish, there can be lots of controversy on how to put it together. Whether to toast the bread or not. Whether to put olive oil on it first, and whether to even put garlic on it afterwards. For the tomatoes, which ones are best, and should the tomato just be rubbed straight onto the bread, or made into a paste that is then applied ( or even left in a dish for you to apply yourself. ) Should you apply the oil and garlic and salt to both the bread, and the paste ? For the garlic – should you even use it at all !
How hard can it be ?
The equipment… well you could use 3 things – just your hand, a great grater, or even a hand blender. Read on to see how we got on and the benefits of each.
The ingredients… how they are applied, and the order of application, can all change the taste somewhat. I can’t believe how complicated a simple thing can be… but that’s the glory of experimenting with food isn’t it.
I’ve read different stories about the origins of this recipe. Originally, it was a dish created out of convenience – to use up stale bread, and abundant harvests of tomatoes. The juice of the tomatoes re-softened the old bread again. I guess this is why toast is the modern way to make it, since that re-creates the hard bread.
Most people put it’s roots firmly in Catalonia… the region of Spain which we know best through the city of Barcelona. When we lived in Barcelona for a summer, our apartment just round the corner from the famous Cap Pep restaurant, where, as well as amazing tapas, they served the best pan tumaca.
However, I’ve heard that the Murcia region claim it as there recipe that came about when workers from that region were working in Catalonia ( on a train line I think in the city of Barcelona ) and they grew tomatoes where they worked so that they could pick them and rub them on bread for lunch.
The old, convenient way
Whichever way we look at it, the hard bread would be rubbed with the tomato ( or possibly with raw garlic first ), then olive oil drizzled on top, and salt sprinkled. This certainly would be the fastest, most convenient way to snack, and perfect for a picnic. Maybe this is the pale pinky red version we see sometimes, which to me, just looks a bit thin. Depending on my mood, it can remind me of soggy tomato sandwich bread, but then we were served this lovely plate of ham and cheese, and the simple tomato bread worked brilliantly with it.
The modern way
Top it with some nice Serrano ham, or cheese, or even black olives or anchovies.
Method and Quantities
I made a DIY version for the two of us for an evening tapas before dinner. The quantities used on all recipes I could find were all the same, so that was easy. However it’s extremely important to Spanish in different areas, how to put the dish together. So lets be open and sample this as many ways as we can. For me, I think the correct method will then be the we like best… and it’s ok to like more than one !
Our DIY version
I zested ( yes I brought my microplane in the suitcase with me 😉 ) some garlic (1/2 clove) into the pulp (of 2 tomatoes), added a good pinch of Maldon sea salt flakes and some olive oil ( 1/2 tablespoon ) … then just used it as a spread on the toast.
I added olive oil to some sourdough baguette and dry fried it, then rubbed with garlic before applying the paste. It was delicious but to be honest, Paul found it too garlicky ( I like more garlic than him ). So next time I would only do the garlic once – either on the toast, or in the paste, not both !
This is what we ended up with, enjoyed with a nice little inexpensive Majorcan wine. (We’re not yet used to the best of Mallorcan wine so, until then, we like to pick out some cheap buys at the supermarket. This one is our favourite so far… about 3.5 euros ) We had a little paste left over too, so this quantity would work on larger slices of bread.
Just multiply up the ingredients above depending on how many people, and how many slices of bread you want to use.
Did you notice the 2 slices on the left look different to the 2 on the right ? That’s because they are ! It’s so important to get the right tomatoes for this bread, so we tested out two varieties. Read on to see why, and how it all turned out.
p.s. We also had bought some tapenade from the market, so the next day I mixed the leftover tomato paste with the leftover tapenade and it made a delicious new paste !
Plum vs. Vine Tomatos
So I went to the market to get the correct tomatoes for this dish… ones with a good pulp !
I thought I’d read plum tomatoes are a good alternative and I know those so I went to buy them. I then said it’s to make pan tumaca… and the lady immediately pointed to tomatoes behind her ( not on the front shelf !). They looked pretty ordinary and unappealing, so I took some of each to test them all out. What do you think the result was ahahaha ! Now that we’ve been to a supermarket and got some vine tomatoes, I’m convinced this is what she had a huge bag of at the market – just without the fancy vines attached !
(By the way, did you know that when cooking vine tomatoes, you can actually keep the vines attached to get that gorgeous flavour… just pull then vines out when cooked )
And, after my tests, I did some more research and YES YES YES, it’s vine tomatoes that are meant to be the best to use. So let’s show you how I proved it 😉
Since the market trip, I see the words pa amb oli at street cafés… that’s what the Mallorcans call this dish, and it’s sacrilege to serve it as a DIY dish ! I learned the name of the tomato too ( the one on the right on the next picture). It’s a particular variety of vine tomato called Tomàtiga de Ramellet,
It’s interesting that the plum tomato looked like it had much more pulp when I cut it in half, but it delivered a lot less in quantity, and definitely wasn’t as tasty.
How to pulp your tomato
The traditional way is to cut the tomato in half and either use your hand to rub the open juicy side straight onto the bread ( but you get a pretty watery version I think), or to hold the half tomato in your hand and rub it up and down a coarse (cheese) grater to grate the pulp out, until all you have left in your hand is the skin. You’ll have to keep grating as far as you can… there’s lots more pulp there than you think.
I got a bit excited when I opened the cutlery drawer in our new rental apartment and saw a foldaway grater – how come I didn’t know these exist ( it’s the simple things that give me pleasure !) As a kid I used to get the same pleasure from those drum style graters you wind with a handle… but now I don’t want to have to cut my food into chunks to go in them. I want the grater to work for me, not the other way round.
It’s also one of my pet hates, how much room a box grater takes up in a cupboard – when really most people only use the one side – the largest holes. So I decided to research these too. This is a Tefal grater, and I got on quite well with it- Paul didn’t like it as much ( it’s not very cheffy is it !) . This smart 3 way foldaway grater was the best rated one I found for you online.
So what’s the best grater to use ?
Like all stand up graters, it was a bit of a pain having to get the right sized dish to grate the tomatoes into. On a board, the juice goes everywhere, so I was lucky that it fitted onto a soup dish. Now I think it was the novelty of seeing something knew, and that fitted in the drawer that appealed most. The problem with most graters is also that they just don’t work effectively in the long term. They lose their sharpnesses far too quickly and you end up with mushy, uneven grating – and too much still left on the wrong side of the grater. After lengthy consideration, and research, I decided to get one of the Microplane single holder gourmet extra course grater. I brought the microplane zester with me in the suitcase and it would be so easy to also pack this extra course grater too.
Microplane – why the professionals love it.
I didn’t expect to end up loving the microplane products best, but I’m not surprised. They’re comfortable to handle, and yes I’ve realised I do like to have control over where my gratings go, and it’s so easy and fast to use that, and feels effortless. Why, well they boast ultra-sharp photo etched holes – I don’t know any other brand that does, and they never seem to go dull, unlike most other graters you get. It doesn’t slip either with the rubber feet, and being stainless steel it shouldn’t rust either.
If I was going for a even came across a new version of the box grater which I’m finding really tempting, seeing as it’s from microplane. (See picture below).I also liked this KITCHENAID gourmet box grater that is really highly rated, and also has a neat storage container ( with lid !) that sits inside the grater to catch the gratings and slicings. The box even has capacity markers – what a brilliant idea !
However… if we were to try another box grater, I think I would personally choose the microplane because it has ultra course and fine rather than coarse and medium sides. It also has great grips. And, a key new feature is that you can slide the back off to make it easier to clean… and we know how annoying box graters are to wash right ! It also has all the graters I like, including the easy 2 way grater. As for the planing / slicing blade it comes with – most graters come with this but do you ever use that ? I’d love to know. We tend to just use our potato peeler for lots of small slicing.
3 top Microplane graters
We’d have either the first and 3rd ( great for simple living and popping in the suitcase too) , or the square one in the middle.
By the way, that’s why we like the gourmet range best, because of the hand grips, as opposed to the metal grips on the professional range. We’re not professionals so we don’t wear gloves and our hands can get a bit messy so could slip about too much on the steel.
Why not use a hand blender !
Exactly my thoughts ( and of course I had brought my Bamix babe in the suitcase ), so I pulped one half of the tomato with the grater, and the other half with the blender. I used the chopping bowl attachment. Whilst I was pulping with the grater, I left the other tomatoes (scored the skin first) in some hot water.
I remember reading about a lady who married into a Spanish family, and was asked to grate the tomatoes for tomato bread. The mother in law seemed to delight in always saying there was more pulp to be had on those skins ! But now I agree ! Look at the difference in the half tomato skins from after grating(RHS), and the skins that I could peel off (LHS).
You get much more tomato pulp with a blender
I also ended up getting much bigger quantity of tomato pulp with the hand blender, but the consistency , even after a few seconds of blending, was much thinner. Perhaps my hand blender is too powerful, and I would just try using the blending leg next time.
I got just the right consistency by mixing the two types of pulps together.
Plum first on the left, vine on the right
So the experiment continues…
We’ve just had this delicious tomato bread yesterday to start a delicious lunch off at our favourite little restaurant find in the back streets of the old city. L’Ambigú. We found it on our way back from having to park the rental car ( can’t bring it into the old town ) and it turns out to be just minutes away from the apartment.
The tomato bread was divine ! From a distance it reminds me of smoked salmon on scone bread. It’s smooth, and tasty, and I’m sure uses great olive oil and salt. It’s all about using the best and right ingredients, and the method ! I’m pretty sure they’ve used a hand blender here, not a grater. And maybe a chinois too !
Over to you
Good luck with your tomato paste and pan tumaca making. It’s so easy and interesting that you’re going to be making this a lot lot ! I read about children even loving it for breakfast instead of nutella on bread… but maybe without a plan tomato without the garlic etc.
Remember the secret is to get the right tomatoes, the right bread even ! If your tomatoes are a little tart, it’s ok to add a touch of sugar. Then start experimenting with making it just how you like it with regard to the salt, oil and garlic.
I’m going to get some tomato purée or sundried tomatoes to try to replicate that burrata tapas I mentioned earlier. Not the tradional pan tumaca, but we’re on the tomato on bread journey now !
How are you going to start?
Do let us know how it goes in the comments below.
Paul and Aoibheann