Did you know that yesterday was Fiesta Nacional de Espana, originally celebrated as Dia de la Hispanidad to mark the landing of Columbus in the Americas on 12th October 1492, and declared a national holiday by the Spanish king back in the ’80s? Okay, we’re talking a celebration of the biggest landmark day in the history of colonialism, which may or may not be something you’re queuing up to tip your cap to. But what is worth celebrating is the wonderful way Spanish and Hispanic peoples approach the humbler things in life. Like bread and garlic, tomatoes and olive oil.
I got chatting over a late and leisurely lunch yesterday (very Spanish that, start at 2pm, finish close to five, and defer your work so you’re still at the desk till gone 9pm) with an Irish lady who’s been living in Spain for the last ten years. I was saying how taken I am with pan con tomate. If you’ve never made this classic Spanish dish, here’s how it goes. Find yourself a piece of fresh white bread, the kind with a nicely chewy crust and a subtle golden hue to what bread aficianados like to call the ‘crumb’ (that’s the middle bit). But I’m over-complicating things. It’s really this easy:
Get yourself a piece of good white bread. Toast it. Or not.
Slice a clove of garlic in half and rub it on the bread.
Slice a juicy fresh tomato in half and rub it on the bread. Go on, give it a good squeeze while you’re at it, you want all those sweet juices to be soaked up nicely.
Now, drizzle with the best olive oil you have to hand.
Season, if you like, as you like.
Devour. Warm or cold. On its own or topped with some hard, salty sheep’s cheese or with some really good jamon. Jamon Iberico if you can get your hands on some, which is the special breed of black-footed pig indigenous to Spain where they’re let loose in the acorn-ridden dehesa wilderness to fatten up on special fats. (It’s a happy coincidence that besides tasting outrageously good, these fats – when eventually consumed after three years of curing and hanging – are welcomed into the human body as oleic acids, a mono-unsaturated fatty acid also found in XV olive oil and avocados, and proven to help us increase levels of good cholesterol and reduce levels of bad cholesterol. But I’m over-complicating things again.)
Anyway this lady I was chatting to loves pan con tomate too. So much so that she has it for breakfast every day. (Seriously. For breakfast.) She goes at it in a different way: blitzing the tomato, garlic and olive oil together before spreading on bread and topping with jamon Iberico. For breakfast. I like her style.
Of course it helps that she has a fiancé with farmer parents who grow the most incredible looking tomatoes (she showed my photos of them on her iPhone like a doting aunty). And that she’s the export manager of Jabu, a premium brand of seriously nutty, sweet Iberico ham. And the export manager of Ame, a premium brand of seriously fruity, peppery extra virgin olive oil. I don’t know where she gets her bread, but I bet she has good connections there too.
Anyway, if I lived in Jabugo and had ready access to such fine products, I’d probably eat pan con tomate for breakfast too. As it is, I’ll make do with going back to Johnnie Cooke’s Cafe Bar H in Hanover Quay where we had lunch today, and ordering more of that Jabu Jamon Iberico Essencia. I’ll probably order more of those pimentos de padron (grilled green chillies, and the culinary equivalent to Russian roulette) and benuelos a baccalo (incredibly moreish little fried balls of salt cod magic). And maybe some chipirones en su tinto (baby squid in their ink) if they have it, or that incredible topside Donald Russell Irish beef dry-aged ‘cecina‘ style for 18 months (new to the market, and some of the best charcuterie I’ve ever tasted from anywhere). And I’ll wash it down with some El Lagar de Isilla Rueda or Ribera del Duero (because not only are the family behind it lovely people, but also because they make lovely wine).
I probably won’t have all that for breakfast. Though you never know.
Anyway, go on the Hispanics. Never mind what the indigenous people of the Americas might have to say about Columbus. If they’d had their way, they’d probably have kept the tomato all to themselves. And probably the potato too. And then what would we Irish have eaten when all the rest of our food was being shipped overseas to feed the colonisers? Oops! There I go. Over-complicating.
Happy Dia de la Hispanidad. It might be yesterday’s news, but maybe we can take something from it. Make pan con tomate, not war.