It is crucial to slice the tomato the right way, Ward says. I can’t really believe that but the guy seems to be pretty serious about what he is saying. He takes the fruit from the table, holds it into the neon light of the flickering light bulb over our heads and scrutinizes the peel. The thing is gigantic.
In fact, it looks more like a small melon than like a tomato and it isn’t like anything you would ever get at a German supermarket. It isn’t round either. And it isn’t red. In fact, I would have never bought a tomato like that one back at home. There are green and brown spots on its freckled peel. It doesn’t look too ripe. But the smell is delicious.
Never judge a fruit by its outer appearance. On that evening, on a small campsite in Spain, I had the best tomatoes ever. Back at home I would often bask in the memory of their taste – that is, whenever I tried to make myself the dish I have fallen in love with at Costa Brava. Simple yet tasteful, tomato bred is one of the most delicious foods in the world – if made with the right tomatoes – the sort of flesh tomato that tastes best if cultured with love in a Mediterranean garden. The bad news is: You just won’t find tomatoes like that north of the Alps. I gave up searching after a while. The stuff they import never tastes right.
Spain is famous for its food. Tapas, Serrano or Manchego – the words alone make my mouth water and provoke my appetite. I confess to being a Serrano addict. Whenever I have it at home, I will not eat anything else on my bread. But that evening in the restaurant of Eco Lava Camping in Santa Pau changed my habits. Joan Masoliver Jorda, owner of that campsite, had a hand in that, too: He was the one who offered us homegrown tomatoes from his own garden at first. And then, our friend told us about tomato bread…
Never cut from the top
Ward is still holding the tomato in his left hand. The right one searches for a cutting knife on the rustic wooden table in front of him. “Now look”, the Dutch expat who has lived in Spain for five years claims and I have to laugh at the dramatic tension he is trying to create. This is just food, after all. Also, he strongly reminds me of Marshall in How I Met Your Mother, which makes me laugh even more. He shushes me with an only half-angry snoot and points to the stem. “Never ever cut it from the top; slice it in half like an onion, horizontally.” His facial expression has changed back to dead serious: “If cut vertically, the tomato juice just flows from the tomato and makes a mess on the table and you won’t get the same effect.”
Ward picks up a half and shows it to us. The cores and juice show at the cut but they are held back from running out by the pulp.
Now that we had the first tomato-cutting lesson of our lives, we are ready to eat. A basket full of toasted bread is already waiting on the table, next to it a bottle of olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper from grinders. Joan pours heady wine into our glasses as we get our own tomatoes and neatly cut them into two halves. Ward takes his bread, drips oil and some vinegar on it, adds salt and pepper, and then rubs a tomato half on it. It looks almost as if he is using a rubbing board. Until then, I had thought of tomato bread as bread with tomato slices on it – needless to say I never was particularly fond of that. I have seen the kind of bread I am about to eat done with garlic but never thought about flavoring it with anything else.
I take my tomato and bray it on my slice of bread. Serrano and Manchego are standing on the table, waiting to be added. Although I am tempted to put them on top, I resist the urge to do so – at first. I really don’t need either. As I take my first bite, I have a new favorite dish. Bon Apétit!
Oh, and by the way: Tomato bread is as delicious with Serrano on top…