Smaller breakfasts = hungry americanos
When I first traveled to Spain six years ago, I was more than a little disheartened to learn that folks here rarely (if ever) indulge in the the heavy, egg and meat laden kind of breakfasts that folks in America are so accustomed to eating on a daily basis. I remember struggling to adapt to lighter and sweeter morning meals, often leading me to give into the temptation of a mid-morning slice of tortilla (aka, the ever-tasty Spanish omelette) to tide me over until lunch. Nevertheless, after a week or so, I soon realized that what I thought was some kind of Castilian commitment to living off of fewer calories was actually just a recognition that, around 10:30 AM, there will more often than not be time for a coffee and a nibble. Who would have guessed that Spaniards had been practicing the “2nd breakfast” longer than Americans?
Pan con tomate = a breakfast all-star in Spain
It was at one of those heaven-sent mid-morning breaks that I first tried pan con tomate, a baguette opened up length-wise, toasted to perfection, and topped with extra virgin olive oil and blended up tomatoes. While an odd breakfast food to those of us from Anglophone countries, it is a perfect example of the Mediterranean diet in action. Tomatoes, heart-healthy oil, and, depending on which bread you order, whole grains all melding together to give you, the lucky eater, a delicious yet light meal.
In Spain, folks who are looking for a healthier alternative to chocolate stuffed napolitanas, sweet rolls, and the like can opt for a nice tostada, a spoonful of tomate, and a luscious drizzle of aceite de oliva right on top of it all. If you’d like a recipe to try it yourself, check out this one from Bon Appétit that calls for just 4 ingredients (crusty bread, tomatoes, garlic, and oil), plus a little salt and pepper.
For those southerners reading this post, the idea of bread, tomatoes, and a bit of fat ought not be a foreign idea. In rural Appalachia where my family originates, a perennial summertime favorite is the tomato sandwich. This humble meal features white bread with a generous helping of mayonnaise, loaded sky-high with thick-cut tomato slices. (If you really want to live high on the hog, make sure you are using tomatoes from Grainger County, Tennessee.) While maybe not quite as refined as the Spanish interpretation, the tomato sandwich of the South hints at the same idea, namely, that some of the best things in life are also the least complicated. Sometimes, they are as simple as tomatoes and bread.
This week I am challenging myself to look out for those tomatoes and bread moments, those times when the simple thing is really the best thing. We complicate our lives just like we complicate our breakfasts, eating and consuming (and wasting) so much out of fear, haste, and tradition. While I am not sure a plate of tomatoes and bread will fix our tangled-up lives, what they represent, namely simple living, is a good place to start.