Thursday, June 14, 2007

A New Take on the Open Faced Sandwich: Pa Amb Oli

Lunch in Mallorca was always a sunny, pleasant affair usually involving nice glasses of wine. . . a topic I'll hopefully cover soon before jumping into South African culinary adventures (hint: what's coming next!). . . but I digress.

Mallorcans are big on
pa amb oli, a local specialty eaten as part of a light lunch or for breakfast. In the island's trademark style, the dish is simple, showcases local products, and has a hearty farming origin. Balearic farmers apparently eat it as a staple, using rustic leftover breads and sliced meats and cheeses.

The dish is basically an open faced sandwich, where ripe tomatoes and rich cheeses and cured meats are the highlight upon a hearty slice of whole grain bread. It's easy to make and be creative with too. One restaurantwe visited in Palma de Mallorca's up and coming Portixol neighborhood, ENCO, did a wonderful new take that involved local pickled peppers and tomato paste instead of the traditional sliced tomatoes.

I've included a version of the recipe below. It doesn't take longer than 10 minutes to throw together, so long as you've made the paste ahead of time. But don't skimp on the toppings - it's worth investing in great Spanish cheeses and cured meats from your local specialty deli if possible, to try and recapture some of the dish's local flavor!

A loaf of dark rye bread (ideally a rustic loaf of farmer’s bread)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced in half
1 cup tomato paste (see recipe below)
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
¼ lb of soft white cheese, Manchego, Maó, Malorquin or Mahón recommended

¼ lb of Serrano ham

Pickled peppers (optional)

Pitted, red Spanish olives (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF

2. Slice the loaf thickly into ¾ or 1 inch slices

3. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5 minutes, or until golden and crisp.

4. Remove from the oven and immediately rub 1 side of each slice with a cut side of the garlic.

5. Spread about 2 tbspn of tomato paste (see below) or more if desired, onto one side of each bread slice.

6. Drizzle olive oil over the tomato paste and sprinkle with sea salt.

7. Top with 1 or 2 slices of cheese and ham, as desired. Place back in cooling oven for 1-2 minutes to warm slightly.

8. Remove from oven. Garnish each pa amb oli slice with peppers and/or olives and serve immediately, while bread is still warm and crisp.

Tomato Paste
6 large thin-skinned tomatoes, perfectly ripe (tomato enthusiasts, Heirlooms work well in this recipe)
1 teaspoons salt or to taste
extra virgin olive oil
1 tspn. crushed chillis
½ tspn ground paprika
¼ tspn oregano

1. After rinsing tomatoes, score a cross on the bottom of each fruit using a sharp knife. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water (for less than a minute), then drop into a bowl of ice cold water.

2. After this the tomato peel should almost fall off. Pull the peels off the tomatoes and discard. Cut the core out and remove all the seeds, discard these as well. Chop the remaining flesh into small pieces.

3. Place pieces in a medium sauce pot. Add salt to taste, as well as crushed chillis and ground paprika. Simmer over a low heat for around 1 hour, stirring often to prevent tomatoes from burning.

4. Remove from the heat and press through a fine sieve into a smaller sauce pot. Discard flesh from sieve. Add oregano to remaining mixture.

6. Continue to cook mixture very slowly until the paste holds its shape without running on a spoon, approximately 2 to 3 hours. Stir occasionally to prevent any sticking.

7. Remove and cool. Store in a sealed jar in fridge until ready to use.

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