How great olive oil makes tomatoes taste AMAZING
In Andalucia, everyone grows their own tomatoes and almost everyone grows olives. I always wonder if that's why they taste so good together. It's nature's way of food pairing innit? Picual, the most ubiquitous olive oil variety in Andalucia, has strong notes of tomato and tomato leaf and its natural pepper hit followed by a slightly astringent finish is so perfect for showcasing a great tomato and lifting a not so great one to the next level.
Try this - slice or roughly chop a couple of decent tomatoes then generously drizzle them with a Picual like Pagos de Toral or, the slightly livelier Cortiquo Spiritu Santo, a little dash of balsamic or sherry vinegar and a generous pinch of flakey salt. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes and you have one of the tastiest salads around. It's that classic Mediterranean trick of just 1 simple ingredient made sublime by the right seasoning - olive oil and salt.
It's the kind of dish I like to serve as part of a Mezze style meal. It varies according to what I get my hands on in the market and what's in the garden - think Spanish omelette or maybe an empanada, slabs of feta, couscous and/or pearl barley salads, baba ganoush, greens panfried with garlic and drizzled with olive oil and maybe a spritz of lemon juice. While this kind of meal is a movable feast tomatoes tend to be a cornerstone and preparing them this way really maxes out their flavour. When basil's in season I often add it to the mix. The basil we get here in Ireland can be a little anaemic so marinating it with the tomatoes and oil really brings up its gorgeously aromatic flavour.
I was in Italy over the summer where this kind of tomato salad gets heaped on bread and makes a great starter. Serve with some cheeses and olives and it'll feel like a spread and it really couldn't be easier to put together.
A simple tomato salad than can be repurposed as bruschetta (for 2-3)
- 4 decent tomatoes (they should smell like tomatoes if you're wondering what I mean)
- A punchy, peppery olive like like a Picual
- Flakey salt
- A tiny quantity of vinegar - balsamic, sherry or red wine
- A few sprigs of basil (about 15 decent size leaves) if you have it
- Rustic style bread - sourdough or a decent baguette are perfect but a slice of Mc Cambridges will suffice if that's what you have
Chop the tomatoes and finely shred the basil. Mix together in a bowl and generously drizzle with oil, a dash of vinegar and a generous pinch of flakey salad. Mix well then set aside for at least 20 minutes.
For the Bruschetta:
Toast about 3/4 baguette (or the equivalent). Cut into manageable pieces then heap with the tomato salad.
The next thing I do with tomatoes and olive oil is the Catalan pan amb tomaquet (bread with tomato). When I lived in Barcelona this was something I ate almost every day. Here in Dublin, it's what I give my kids after school to have with a pot of hummus. Again this is a non-recipe recipe but it's just so good that it's worth sharing. Also, it really highlights just how little you have to do with simple ingredients when you've got a good oil.
Pan am tomaquet (for 2 or 3)
- 1 decent quality baguette or similar - I used one from Bread & Butter in Drumcondra and it was really stellar.
- 4 good quality tomatoes
- Olive oil
Toast the bread and slice the tomatoes in half through the middle rather than top to bottom.
Rub the tomato halves on the bread until they literally fall apart and you are only left with the skins. Generously drizzle with oil and a sprinkling of flakey salt.