Queen of Summer Pan Con Tomate at the Durham Farmers' Market
This recipe is for those of you who, like myself, firmly believe in the notion that July heat is best intended for a literal interpretation of Netflix and chill. My oven is on summer hiatus and my stove is on European hours. Any dish that counters the good work my air conditioner is doing right now is off the menu for the foreseeable future. Or until September.
But all is not lost - in North Carolina, you can live like royalty with just a few ingredients and access to a quality farmers' market or farmstand. And in Durham, we've got that in spades. Especially this weekend at the Durham Farmer's Market, where I'll be occupying the Chef's Table spot for one of my favorite special market days - Tomato Day!
When I think of hot weather and tomatoes, I'm inspired by a previous trip to Spain where I followed the footsteps of history's most famous Spanish royalty, Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand. Our trip took us all the way from hiking the wheat and rosemary-lined pathways of the Camino de Santiago in the northern region of Castile and León to speeding across the olive-speckled Andalusian southern countryside between Seville, Granada, and Cordoba exploring the last days of the Reconquista. We filled our breakfast plates with Pan Con Tomate and hard boiled eggs as we planned each day's new adventure. In the afternoons, Pan Con Tomate y jamon rested in the shadows of refreshing tinto de verano as we sheltered away from the glaring overhead sun. Pan Con Tomate is truly a dish that transcends both weather and mood.
But, I'm starting to digress. Let's get to gettin', shall we?
Pan Con Tomate is a simple recipe, which is also to say that it's a dish where the quality of the ingredients used to make it are incredibly important. Our Queen of Summer version features sun-ripened local heirloom tomatoes, Ninth Street Bakery's Rosemary and Olive Sourdough, and Boxcarr Handmade Cheese's earthy, sharp, and creamy Winsome. Cold-pressed olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, and a little salt round out the flavors into a happy and sustaining summertime treat. Stop by the Chef's Table tent on Saturday, July 22nd and taste it for yourself.
Note: This is one of those dishes where you can improvise a bit and adjust ingredients to your preference, but I am giving you my dreamiest version here. You can also adjust the flavor of the overall dish by changing the variety of tomato that you use. For a meatier-tasting version, I love to use Cherokee Purple or Japanese Black Trifele tomatoes. Bright yellow Hillbilly or Lemon Boys make a more delicate dish. You can also Green Zebra tomatoes for a lively and more acidic version.
Queen of Summer Pan Con Tomate
Inspired by bright Spanish mornings and hot Carolina summer tomato season.
2 lb. ripe summer tomatoes, the best you can find (see note above)
2 cloves garlic, minced or microplaned
3 Tbl. cold-pressed olive oil, plus more for toasting
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbl. sherry vinegar (optional)
1 baguette, sourdough preferred
Aged cheese for garnish (optional)
Fresh basil (optional)
Make the Tomate Sauce:
1. Wash, de-stem, and cut tomatoes in half.
2. Using a wide, shallow bowl, place the cut half of the tomato against the coarse shredding side of a box grater and grate the tomato into a coarse pulp until all that is left is the tomato skin. The pulp should have small to medium size flecks of tomato flesh and a moderate amount of tomato juice. Continue grating the tomatoes until there are none left. Discard the skins.
3. Once you have finished grating the tomatoes, check that you have about 30% juice and 70% flesh. If you have too much juice, then drain the mixture using a sieve and then add enough juice back in to equal this proportion. If you have too much flesh, then consider yourself lucky and move on to the next step.
4. Add garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and salt to the bowl and mix with a spoon. After tasting the mix for desired level of salt, let the mixture sit and get to know itself while you toast the bread.
Prepare the Bread:
5. Slice baguette into desired pieces - this is a bit hard to explain, but there are two factions in how it should be done. You can either slice the the baguette horizontally and then cut each half into six rectangular chunks (twelve chunks total) or you can simply slice the baguette into 3/8" slices (I used a ruler to find this number, but you can just eyeball it as long as the slices aren't super thick or thin).
6. Brush bread with olive oil.
7. Using an oven or grill, lightly toast or grill the bread. You want to aim for something in the middle of toasted, neither too light nor too dark with lightly charred edges.
Assemble the Dish:
8. Place grilled bread on a plate or platter and ladle the tomato mixture on top of the toast.
9. Garnish with thin slices of cheese (using a vegetable peeler works really well) and/or fresh basil.
Enjoy! Store any unused tomato mixture in your fridge up to one week.