Pan con Tomate

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Pan con tomate is a national treasure of Spain.

This ubiquitous Spanish starter is the simplest thing in the world to make, but don’t be fooled by the basic nature of the dish. Probably the most famous dish from Catalonia, the beloved pan con tomate is a thing of genius, the sheer simplicity belying a profound complexity of flavor from five ingredients in symbiotic harmony. You start with good, flavorful, rustic bread. You toast it until it’s hot and crusty. Add garlic, tomato, olive oil, and salt. The end result is perfection.

To make pan con tomate at home you need very good bread with some flavor, a hearty crust, and a crumb dense enough to withstand a little manhandling. I like to make it with a sourdough batard, which is a French loaf that’s fatter and more irregular than its cousin the baguette. I cut it on the bias (at an angle) into slices about three-quarters of an inch thick.

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Fresh tomatoes and good bread.

You can use any kind of grill you like to toast the bread. This time I used a grill pan for the convenience; I didn’t feel like firing up the propane Weber for a few slices of bread, ya know. I’m sure you could broil the bread if you wanted or hold the bread in a pair of tongs and wave it over a roaring oak fire, which would probably be the most authentic method. However you do it, get the bread nice and hot and a little charred on both sides.

Okay, the garlic. Take a peeled clove of fresh garlic and trim off about the end, removing about 25% of the clove off. You’ll scrape the cut end over the hot bread’s surface. For tomatoes I like the medium-sized vine-ripe kind. Cut them into quarters. You need one tomato quarter per slice of bread. You’ll also need extra-virgin olive oil, ideally from Spain; something fruity with some good character. Finally good sea salt. I had on hand some fleur de sel de Camargue but use anything except iodized table salt.

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Rub the fresh tomatoes on to the cut surface of your crusty bread.

So, to assemble your tasty pan con tomate first grill the bread until crusty. Gently scrape the garlic clove all over one side of the bread. Now rub the tomato into the bread on that same side. A little pulp will rub off, maybe a couple of seeds, definitely some good tomato essence. Now drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over the slice, maybe a teaspoon per slice, and sprinkle some salt over the slice. You can crack some black pepper over it if you’d like, although it’s optional.

Serve with a little manchego cheese or salami or jamon Serrano. Oh, and don’t forget a glass of cheap but tasty red wine!

 

Stir-Fried Baby Bok Choy

I love eating babies! Baby bok choy, that is.

A couple of days ago I made this very tasty stir-fried baby bok choy. I make some slight variation on this same stir-fry at least once a week, ’cause I gotta get my greens! Greens are delicious and healthy-as-hell, so I make a point of eating at least a small amount of some kind of hearty green — bok choy, kale, spinach, gai-lan, broccoli — every day.

Making this is pretty simple:

First clean the baby bok (I started with about 2/3 pound) by trimming off the bases (dirt can collect at the base of the stalks. The stem bases are totally edible, just wash them very well and trim any tough areas. Rinse and dry all the baby bok very well; you can even dry them in a salad spinner and then place them out on a kitchen towel to air out a little. The point is, you want as little moisture getting in the hot wok as possible.

Now mince up two or three garlic cloves. And then mince some fresh ginger — you’ll need about one big rounded tablespoon.

Heat a wok over the highest flame you can muster. When it actually starts smoking you’re ready to rock…er, wok. Swirl in the bottom of the wok two or three tablespoons of vegetable oil (or peanut oil). Throw in the garlic and ginger and stir around for about two seconds. Add the baby bok choy and stir it in the oil, moving rapidly. Add in a 1/4 cup of xao sing (Chinese cooking wine, sub sherry if you must). When most of the liquid has evaporated add about two tablespoons of hoisin sauce. Throw in some cracked black pepper, a pinch of ground white pepper, and salt to your taste (for me, probably a teaspoon of kosher salt. Mix it all up and test for doneness and seasoning. The stems should still have a little crunch and the greens should be wilted but not totally soft. Total cooking time is probably three to four minutes, depending on the BTU output of your home stovetop.

This meal also included a pretty stupendous grilled salmon. Add a little rice and a small salad and you’ve got a nicely rounded, healthy dinner for anyone.

Skillet Green Beans with Garlic & Cashews

A hot skillet makes everything taste great.

This side dish was one of those off-the-cuff veggie things that I do on occasion.

The dish started with schmaltz. Schmaltz is the Yiddish word for rendered chicken fat, which is used as a cooking oil in kosher-keeping kitchens. It makes a great cooking oil, lending robust flavor to anything that’s cooked in it. Often, when I make a big vat of chicken broth, I’ll cool the broth overnight to remove the fat. The fat rises to the surface and can be pulled off in chunks after it solidifies at refrigerator temperatures. I’ll melt this chicken fat and strain it very well, leaving behind a highly-flavored (and highly-cholesteral-laden) cooking medium. It’s great to pan-fry anything — from eggs to chicken cutlets to veggies. So anyway, I had some schmaltz on hand, a nice supply of good green beans, and a little know-how.

I heated my trusty seasoned skillet over medium high until a droplet of water splashed on the hot surface skittered and hissed away instantaneously. I added a tablespoon of the chicken fat and about 12 thin slices of fresh garlic. The garlic browned very quickly, and when it did I threw in some raw (trimmed) green beans. I added about two tablespoons of dry white wine and covered the pan to steam the beans. After about one minute I uncovered the skillet and seasoned the green beans with plenty of salt and pepper. I added a tablespoon of butter and stirred it around. After a couple of minutes, when the beans got a little wrinkly and slightly browned, I tossed in a big handful of roasted cashews. I cooked that another thirty seconds or so and then removed the beans from the pan. It was dinnertime!

This yummy side dish made a perfect accompaniment for crispy pork chops. I think it would be nice with chicken or steak or fish as well!