Savoring Spain

Erin Gleeson | May 22, 2018 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

Rarely does my family of four visit a city and think: We could absolutely live here. But that was our feeling about Barcelona. After all, it has stunning architecture; beautiful parks and beaches; great public transportation; and, most importantly, fantastic food. We recently returned from three months in Europe, where I was doing research for a Mediterranean cookbook I’m writing. We traveled through Spain, the French Riviera, Sicily and all over Portugal—with our longest stop, a month in Barcelona. We were there in late fall when the evenings were warm and my husband and I could sit outside sipping Catalan wine alongside a bowl of olives while our two young sons played in the cobblestone plaza.

Since we were traveling with children, we made long lunches our special meals out. Around the corner from our apartment in the Poble Sec neighborhood, myriad hip new eateries were updating traditional tapas (or small plates) with interesting flavors and methods. We indulged in fried eggplant cubes drizzled with molasses and flaky salt; fava bean salad with avocado and soft-boiled quail eggs; and burrata topped with black olive tapenade and arugula. I quickly fell in love with the tapas culture of experiencing so many flavors within a single meal, and sharing and talking about them around the table.

One dish we spotted on nearly every menu was pan con tomate. It came in many variations, but is generally sliced baguette (toasted or not) rubbed with fresh tomatoes and sometimes garlic, garnished with a good amount of olive oil and shards of sea salt. Pan con tomate is frequently served to start a meal, often accompanied with cheese. Although it is usually prepared for you, there were occasions when the components arrived on the table on a platter and a little DIY was required.

Early on during our stay in Barcelona, I also noticed that a lot of people were ordering an enticing reddish drink that I didn’t recognize. After a few days, I asked a server what it was: Spanish vermouth, which tends to be lighter and sweeter than the Italian and French versions, is typically enjoyed on a Sunday afternoon (like a mimosa or bloody mary). The base is a red vermouth, and the add-ins are varying combinations of ice, an orange or lemon slice/twist, soda and olives. I was instantly smitten with its rosy hue and began ordering it regularly as an aperitif. Now, when I’m missing Barcelona, whipping up a simple vermouth cocktail and pan con tomate brings me right back to that magical time and place.

Vermouth Cocktail
Serves 1
6 ounces sweet red vermouth (in Spain, I often saw bottles of Martini & Rossi)
1 orange slice
1 green olive
Fill a cup with ice; then add the vermouth, orange and olive. Salud!

Pan con Tomate
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
1 baguette (sliced lengthwise and then into squares)
5 cloves of garlic (cut in half lengthwise)
5 ripe tomatoes
Extra-virgin olive oil

Flaky salt (I use Maldon brand) 4 ounces Manchego cheese, optional A friend who grew up in Barcelona showed me how her family does this. First, rub the peeled and halved garlic on the bread. Then, cut the tomatoes in half and rub them quite forcefully into the bread, pushing and squeezing until the seeds and juice seep in. Lay all the bread slices out on a platter and drizzle them very generously with a good quality olive oil, followed by a sprinkling of salt. Can be served alongside slices of Manchego. Serve immediately.

Originally published in the April/May issue of Silicon Valley

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