Thursday, October 15, 2009
A TERRIBLE CONFESSION....SORRY CATALUNIA
I have a terrible confession to make, I feel like a heretic....I am betraying the one I love but I can't help it. I've tried and tried and tried...but i just can't help myself anymore. It has to be said. The hiddeous truth is..........I.....just.....don't .........rate.........pa amb tomaquet!. (no, the cat didn't just walk across the keyboard...that is the Catalan spelling for bread with tomato)
Now.....there is history to explain.....I first fell in love with the concept of toasted bread, rubbed garlic, fresh tomato, E.V. olive oil and salt when i was 15 and ate the product in the Valencia region many times as a young tourist. I have also reproduced the concept many times in my restaurants to good effect. Chargrilled sourdough bread or similar, rub with a garlic clove, (this tastes TOTALLY different from chopping the garilc and adding it to the tomatoes) paint with olive oil, spoon on chopped tomato flesh, season...close eyes....eat....don't speak for 30 seconds at least. It is the quintessential flavour of common sense. It encapsulates in one meagre dish the essence of great cooking tradition. That is to use your circumstances and best ingredients to perform alchemy....turn base elements into gastronomic gold. In Tarra I have tried many a tomato bread and have been mostly disappointed. Why? Well. 1. the quality of the bread. Its what I would call 'yesterdays French Baguette'....no hard crust or chewey ,lemony crumb. Its the easy cop-out but it brings the dish down. 2. The garlic has been mild to absent on most occasions.This might be considered as a refined touch, but to me it's the equivalent of de-caf coffee...kind of anathema. 3. The tradition of rubbing the tomato might be historically 'correct' but leaves me cold. I'd rather have a generous helping of ripe, chopped, tomato flesh instead of a smear of tomato water and seeds. And finally the most important missing element. The bitter twang of chargrilling. All the breads I have tasted have been 'toasted' not grilled over fire. Now the odds are stacked against me as: a) I'm not Spanish ...let alone Catalan. b)can every restaurant in Tarragona be wrong and Ant is right? But I actually don't care. I don't give a flying fig if I'm out of step with tradition....I just know that chargrilling sourdough bread over flames, rubbing it with a garlic clove, topping with chopped ripe tomato flesh, anointing with EVO and seasalt tastes a damn sight better that what I have been served.(actually I usually add black pepper and ...don't call the guardia civil......basil) So all I can say is that if what I have experienced is traditional Pa amb tomaquet then it has lost it's way.....viva la revolution!!! power to the heretic!!!! But then again, Imagine a well-meaning but deluded Spanish upstart trying to show Aunt Bessie how to make yorkshire pudding!