Manuel Vázquez Montalbán sometime minimalist cook
Pan con tomate is a familiar menu item in most Spanish restaurants. It is a classic Catalan tapa. It is also one of the recipes included in Manuel Vazquez Montalban’s book, an erudite collection of erotic-gastronomic musings and recipes collected under the unlikely title of Recetas inmorales, ‘Immoral Recipes.’
Rejecting the gastronomic pillars of American imperialism might be the only way of protecting Spain’s culinary heritage. Manuel Vazquez Montalban.
Essayist, novelist, poet and journalist, Vazquez Montalban, who died in 2003, is one of Barcelona’s most prominent modern writers. He was imprisoned during the Franco years for spreading communist policies, and then spent time writing a definitive biography of the General. He is probably best known for his Carvalho series which feature a gourmet detective, usually found sleuthing around his native Barcelona. If you don’t know the Carvalho books, go seek them out.
The culture of speed has arrived in Spain but fortunately a memory for cooking still survives. Manuel Vazquez Montalban.
Recetas inmorales (Immoral Recipes) contains 62 recipes, all designed for the art of seduction. Montalban muses endlessly on the combinations of the table and the bedroom. Some of his recipes are allegedly aphrodisiac, many tailored towards the taste of certain types of partner, others simply give him the space and the ability to play erotic games around the subject of food. He is never less than wry and witty.
Spanish food’ doesn’t exist, and neither does ‘French food’. A nation’s food has nothing to do with the imaginary nation-state. Manuel Vazquez Montalban.
Pan con Tomate (bread and tomato), is a minimalist recipe, but the flavours obtained are strong and lusty. Montanbalm calls it the ultimate sinful dish. Bread. Tomato. Oil. Salt. And after lovemaking, he adds, bread and tomato and a slice of salami.
This is how pan con tomate is prepared. Place on the table:
You may slice the bread and toast it. Use thick slabs of crusty, rustic bread, sourdough is good.
And from here, each person around the table prepares their own pan con tomate. Unless, of course, there are only the two of you, in which case you can help her, or him. Don’t forget, we’re basically talking sin here, a commodity which is always better when shared.
The bread is rubbed, on one side or both, with a clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half.
Cut the tomato in half and smear this onto the bread as well, the pulp will rub off and remain trapped between the grains of the bread. Don’t stint, get as much out of the tomato as you can. Catalans use a local tomato which is not available outside of the area. But find something ripe, preferably home-grown, or, if all else fails just imagine it’s the real thing.
Season with sea salt and drizzle with a good extra-virgin olive oil
That’s it. If you want more you can garnish your pan con tomate with anything you have to hand. In and around Barcelona you may use one or more of the following:
green Spanish olives, anchovy fillets, thinly sliced serrano ham or manchego cheese.
Translated works of Manuel Vazquez Montalban are published by Serpent’s Tail Publishing in the UK, but Recetas inmorales has not yet been translated into English.