With this wonderful Indian summer and temperatures soaring into the late twenties, it’s quite easy to capture a little of Spain in the garden at the moment. I brought home some wonderful Serrano ham that I bought in the market in Valencia last week (see Day Trip to Valencia), nicely vacuum-packed by the stallholder for transport back to UK. So for lunch today, I laid some of this on a plate with slices of Manchego cheese, some small Spanish couchillo olives (from Waitrose, it has to be said, rather than brought back from Spain), cornichon and cocktail onions and some tomato tostada.
Tostada is generally served for breakfast in Spain – usually with either just some olive oil dribbled over the toasted baguette or grated tomato. Grated tomato sounds weird, I know, but the Spanish sell special graters for this and I’ve seen large ones in operation in a bakery which had a little cafe selling tostadas in the morning. The coarse grater is at a 45 degree slant and fits into a container to catch the tomato. However, I just use my standard grater and grate the tomato into a bowl – usually transferring the tomato to a smaller bowl to serve. The essential thing is to use a fairly big tomato of excellent quality for maximum taste and sweetness. Hold it against the grater and start grating; at the end you’ll be left with just the skin in one piece. Then, toast some pieces of baguette and serve with some olive oil and salt. Take the toast, dribble over some extra virgin olive oil to soak into the bread; spoon over some tomato and sprinkle with sea salt. Then eat … it sounds so simple it’s hard to imagine quite how good it is. But it really is something special.
I often like to put these kinds of ingredients on to a large tray as appetizers rather than doing a ‘proper’ starter when friends or family come. Then everyone can just tuck in and help themselves, while enjoying a glass of wine or beer – or if you’re wanting the authentic Spanish touch, some dry fino sherry that has been well chilled in the fridge. I might also add some roasted almonds (served a lot in Spain), some chorizo, maybe even a potato and onion tortilla made earlier and sliced; quails’ eggs are also popular, prawns and garlic, and bean salad. It’s a great way of entertaining and being able to sit with your guests. I do the same with Middle Eastern style mezze or Italian antipasti. It’s all to do with buying good ingredients and then putting them together nicely on a large plate – and sitting down to enjoy!