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Tostada con tomate – toasted bread with fresh tomato, olive oil and salt – was one of my son Mateo’s first foods. With his teeth barely poking through his gums, he would nibble away at bits of tomato toast while perched on his tita’s (aunt’s) lap in our neighborhood café, golden olive oil trickling down his chin.

Look around any café in Murcia in the morning and you will find that tostada con tomate is what most people are having with their coffee. Here, toasted baguette is served with a ramekin of grated fresh tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil and salt on the side, so you can add as much of each as you like. With so much greenhouse production in Spain, we actually get tomatoes (and hence tostada con tomate) year-round, but nothing beats toast made with summer garden tomatoes.

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This popular breakfast and mid-morning snack (also known as pan con tomate) can be found throughout Mediterranean Spain in a variety of guises. The “best way” depends on whom you ask and where they first tasted the four basic ingredients together.

Many Catalans are sure to tell you their version is the best, and the original. In Catalonia, toasted bread with tomato is known as pa amb tomàquet, which, more than a dish, is a symbol of Catalan identity. Indeed, a Catalan writer was the first to mention the preparation in writing in the 1880s, which many consider as proof of its Catalan origins.* Pa amb tomàquet is traditionally made by cutting very ripe tomatoes in half and rubbing them flesh side down onto toasted country bread (sometimes with garlic), which is then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. For many Catalans, this is the only way to eat bread with tomato.

Both the Catalan and Murcian versions (and Valencian and Andalusian takes, too) are beloved local traditions, so does it really matter which came first?  I, personally, love them all, especially in the summer when tomatoes are at their best.

For my son, however, born in Murcia, this will likely always be the best way to eat pan con tomate:

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Murcian-style tostada con tomate

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As with any dish that has so few ingredients, quality makes a big difference in the results. It’s best to use a good baguette that won’t turn instantly soggy, the summer’s ripest tomatoes, fruity extra virgin olive oil and fine sea salt. This recipe is even a good way to use up tomatoes that may be just a little too ripe for salads. The olive oil should not be so strong that it overpowers the tomato flavor.

Have the grated tomato, olive oil and salt ready on the table so they can be added soon as the toast is done.

If you’d like to add protein, top with a thin slice of cured Spanish ham (or prosciutto – I feel my husband cringing – if you cannot find a Spanish brand).

YIELD: The quantities below are for two servings, but they can easily be multiplied or divided.

1 very ripe large tomato

1 six-inch piece of baguette, sliced lengthwise

Fruity yet mild extra virgin olive oil, in a recipient that makes it easy to drizzle

Fine sea salt

A few thin slices of cured Spanish ham (or prosciutto, optional)

Cut the tomato in half and grate each half over a shallow bowl using the large holes of a box grater (press the cut side of the tomato into the grater and rub with a flattened palm until you are down to the skin).

Toast the bread enough that it has some good crunch to it. Use a fork to prick the surface of the toasted bread to help the other ingredients seep in.

Top the toast with an even layer of grated tomato (thick or thin according to taste – I personally like a lot of tomato). Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt. You can always adjust and add more as you eat. Top with ham if you like.

Enjoy!

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* An interesting twist: in researching the origins of this simple dish, I came across a legend that holds that it was actually workers from Murcia who introduced pan con tomate in Catalonia when they headed north to help build the Barcelona metro in the 1920s. The legend persists, even though it has been debunked by the famous Spanish food historian and gastronome Néstor Luján based on the 1880s description by a Catalan writer mentioned above. Luján believes that pa amb tomàquet originated in the Catalan countryside as a means to add moisture and flavor to dried out bread. The rest, as they say, is history ;).

Several changes in my daily routine indicate that summer has officially ended – the thin blanket that was sufficient up until a week ago is no longer enough; my fingers and toes are constantly cold (and my nose has become an icy instrument of torture); this morning, I pulled out my down vest, my favorite way to stay cozy and warm while I work at home; I have begun to crave slow roasts or stews that warm the kitchen and my belly…And just like bulky sweaters and turtlenecks have replaced the tank tops in my bedroom drawers, autumn fruits, like pomegranates and oranges, have taken over the kitchen shelves.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, I’d say it’s the perfect time to make a refreshing cocktail with a fresh orange twist, the Aperol Spritz. Like its boozier cousin Campari, Aperol is a bitter and herbal Italian apéritif whose intense blood orange color jolts the senses as much as the flavor. The intriguing ingredients include bitter orange, rhubarb, and herbs like gentian (also in Angostura bitters) and chinchona, a source of quinine. Aperol becomes a balanced yet invigorating Spritz by adding bubbly and dry prosecco, a splash of soda and a slice of fresh orange. This might sound like a summer refresher (which it can be), and that’s exactly the point –  an Aperol Spritz can brighten any cloudy day.

Aperol Spritz

Another part of the Aperol allure in my mind is its elsewhere quality. Whereas a beer does not typically transport me from my living room, the distinct taste of an Aperol Spritz sweeps me away to thoughts of vacation and lively sidewalk cafés in Italy. It evokes happy personal memories, too, of my first encounters with the drink on a trip to Milan for a good friend’s wedding. I inevitably think of my first refreshing sip on a steamy late May afternoon in the Milan Centrale train station beneath the monumental columns and vaulted ceilings commissioned by Mussolini. I also get to relive the wedding reception, where I had my second Aperol Spritz while grazing from the genius “archipelago di antipasti,” a series of themed appetizer “islands” (i.e. tables), such as the cheese island and the cured meat island.

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Someday soon I’ll be ready for a stew and for hunkering down. But the oranges on my shelves are calling me. For now, I’d rather have something that awakens the senses and enlivens a wintry day.

Early Oranges

Aperol Spritz

You can’t go wrong following the basic formula given on Aperol bottles: ice – 2 parts Aperol – 3 parts prosecco – a splash of soda – a slice of fresh orange.

The recipe lends itself to tweaking, however, depending on your perfect balance of bitter and sweet. For example, I forgo the soda as I see no need to dilute the flavors, and I squeeze in a bit of fresh orange juice for its natural sweetness and acidity. Manolo and I also use the Spanish bubbly cava instead of prosecco, for the sake of convenience and price. Purists may disagree, but I think that either prosecco, cava or champagne makes a delicious and invigorating Aperol cocktail.

Cheers!

For those of you who have visited my site before, you likely noticed my new tagline: “Tales of culinary immersion and exchange in Spain and beyond.” All of the holiday baking sessions I wrote about in these pages made me realize that I want to write about food more than anything else. Please visit my updated About page for more detail. And stay posted for more culinary tales!

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Hi – my name is Ansley Evans. I am writing from the southeastern Spanish city of Murcia, capital of the region with the same name. Murcia has been my home since 2009, but I have lived in many places before this. Originally from Florida, I went to college in Colorado and then moved to Portland, Oregon, where I was rooted for ten years. My next permanent address (for over two years) was in Avignon, France.

All along, food has played a central role in making and maintaining connections with the places I’ve lived and people I’ve met. Through cooking and eating, I have not only experienced distinct cultures, but also have fed my nostalgia and shared my ever-expanding tastes of home with old and new friends alike. I am blogging as a way to share the food stories that inspire me, and to take part in a greater conversation about food and culture around the world, exchanging recipes, reflections and ideas.

On another level, this blog is a chronicle of my Spanish education through a largely food-focused lens. To be honest, the fact I live in Spain still surprises me sometimes considering I spent over twenty years of my life learning and teaching French. I continue to see myself as a Francophile, although my bond with Spain grows deeper each day.

While my French education began in the classroom, I am learning Spanish via immersion.  And some of my most memorable lessons have occurred in kitchens, around tables or with my elbow propped on a tapas bar, fork in hand.

Through food, I have begun to absorb Murcia’s geography – its seafood-rich coastline, its vegetable-abundant valley and its rugged interior known for tender lamb and hearty stews. I have learned recipes from local friends and shared recipes from my past, a process through which we have not only filled our bellies but have also built friendships. Food has been essential to my ongoing adaptation, helping me feel closer to home.

Why “go with curiosity”? Curiosity is my fuel, central to my daily life and travels. And writing is my favorite tool for further exploring those observations that begin with a Hmmm.... I started this blog as a place to share the experiences, mostly culinary, that fascinate and delight me, both in my immediate surroundings and the places I visit. I also see this space as a forum for discussion and exchange. So thank you for visiting, and please pipe in.