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The sacred principles of "pa amb tomàquet"

If you ask any Barcelona local to name the best Catalan invention of all time, nine out of ten will probably reply "el pa amb tomàquet!" (bread rubbed with tomato). More than a simple recipe, culinary technique or custom, the gesture of rubbing tomato on a piece of bread is a sign of Catalan identity.

The origins of this recipe can be traced back to bread with oil, the union of two key ingredients in Mediterranean cuisine inherited from its Greek legacy. However, tomatoes didn't reach the kitchens on the Iberian Peninsula until the 18th century. Indeed, the first written record of this recipe dates from 1884, when two-day-old stale bread was spread with tomato to soften it and then drizzled generously with olive oil. Pa amb tomàquet was part of everyday farmhouse cooking at a time when people had to find a thousand and one uses for left-overs and avoid throwing anything away.

Now you know that pa amb tomàquet isn't just a mere anecdote, but a staple you'll find in any bar and restaurant in Catalonia, we're going to tell you how to make it in six easy steps. We wouldn't want you to fail to do justice (albeit unintentionally) to a symbol with a history dating back more than four centuries.

1. The bread. It's true that you can make it with any type of bread, but if you're looking for the original, most authentic and traditional, choose a rustic sourdough loaf called pa de pagès. And…more importantly, it's got to be toasted.

2. Salt. Sprinkle it on the bread, to taste, before the tomato. The salt will spread more easily as you rub the tomato over the slice of bread.

3. Tomato. It's very important to use tomàquets de ramallet (tomatoes on the vine) or tomàquets de penjar (hanging tomatoes). The latter have lost their acidity and the water from the pulp and have a much more intense flavour. Cut the tomato in half across the middle and rub it on the bread. You'll see that once you've finished you'll be left with just the skin and the bread will be nice and moist.

4. Olive oil. The finishing touch. It has to be extra-virgin olive oil. You can choose the variety (arbequina, picual, picuda…) and intensity according to the flavours and foods you're going to serve with the pa amb tomàquet.

5. Bon profit! (bon appétit !). Don't forget to say it!.

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