Skip to content

Reflections of a working writer and reader



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:
Olive oil
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.

3 Responses to “Manuel Vázquez Montalbán sometime minimalist cook”

  1. Pearl says:

    The simplest food is best. 🙂

    And on a totally 100% different note, since murder is up your line, in a matter or speaking…can you id who is the programmer and who is the serial killer?

    jb says: I don’t know . . . They all look like killers to me.

  2. Glad he waits til afterward for the salami. Not sure about the erotic content of garlic bread. Yummy, though. I’ll have to look for the book.

    jb says: Hi Annmarie. I guess the erotic content isn’t just in the bread and the garlic. It’s to do with the fingers and the different textures and the idea that the table’s just an opening. Perhaps it’s a Catalan thing . . .

  3. dolores fitchie says:

    Sorry 2b such a bore, but the real, original Catalan “pa amb tomaquet” totally omits the garlic, and more often than not bypassess the toasting of the bread. The essence of this wonderful side dish is in the tomato, which must a) be very ripe and b) taste of tomato- unlike the aberrations one finds in Britain these days; and, of course, in using the finest olive oil you can get hold of. Tip: go VERY easy on the salt if you’re gonna have your P&T with anchovies or proper “serrano”
    Gastronomic snobbery apart, nice site indeed! Anyone who knows and loves MVM is 2b respected.
    Al the best
    A Snotty (ex-)Catalan

    jb says: Hi Dolores, good to see you here. This takes me back to people who talk about the real original Yorkshire pudding or the real original Hungarian goulash. There’s no such thing, I’m afraid. All of these recipes are regional, very regional, being different from village to village or sometimes street to street. Manuel Vasquez Montalban himself is a Catalan and he uses garlic. My friend Marie Dolors, herself now a grandmother, remembers her own grandmother and her mother making this dish with garlic as well as tomato, and her brothers and sisters in the villages around Barcelona still use garlic to this day.
    They agree with you, however, that the tomato is the thing.
    They also agree that you can toast the bread or not, as in the recipe I gave, above, which suggest that you may toast the bread if you wish.
    I’m getting hungry just writing about this. Might have to take a little trip to the kitchen.