Italian Table Talk: Pane con Pomodoro

So much of why we love food – eating it, making it, talking about it – is because it is emotionally attached to a memory, perhaps a fond ritual, perhaps a specific occasion. So easily triggered by the smell, feel or look of something, the nostalgia is instantaneous and even stronger when it is something to do with our childhood.

This is what happens when you talk about merenda, the typical mid-afternoon snack that most Italians tend to associate with coming home from school as a child. That moment of the day, somewhere around 4 o’clock, when small stomachs growl with emptiness and a little something will help make it to dinner time.

La merenda can often be something sweet (and in this case is usually called la merendina, ‘the little snack’). Perhaps a warm bowl of milk with biscotti for dipping; brioche – plain or filled with jam; a slice of bread, thickly spread with nutella. In the summer, gelato is quite possibly everybody’s – whether big or small – favourite merenda.

Then there are those merende that go back to another time. Long before pre-packaged snacks lined aisles at the supermarket. Like the zabaione-ish uovo sbattuto: an egg yolk and a spoonful or two of sugar, whipped up in seconds with a fork in a small teacup. Even Pellegrino Artusi in his 1891 cookbook describes this as the antidote to a crying child. His version includes the white of the egg, whipped to peaks and folded through the creamy egg, served with bread for dipping.

Then there are the savoury snacks. Pane con la mortadella is a classic – a slice of bread with mortadella, it’s one of my husband’s favourite nostalgic snacks, competing with pane con pomodoro, often prepared by his nonna for his after-school merenda.

Bread with tomato. It’s not a bruschetta as such (although the ingredients are essentially the same), but much simpler: a tomato, cut in half, is rubbed over the bread until it is stained pink. It needs only a sprinkle of salt and pepper and good olive oil. Toasting is entirely optional. If you really wanted, you could embellish it – some fresh basil, some dried oregano, garlic. But these additions are mostly superfluous and really depend on how your nonna made it for you when you were a child.

It’s so simple it really doesn’t need a recipe, it’s more of a preparation, suited to your taste, to your memory. For me, not having grown up on pane con pomodoro like my husband, it reminds me of a summer trip to Palma de Mallorca, where this is known as pan amb oli in majorcan (pa amb tomàquet in Catalan), and eaten as a starter or, indeed, a snack. There’s a very specific order in which the ingredients are prepared. First, a quick rub of garlic, then a rub of tomato, followed by a sprinkle of salt and lastly, olive oil – Spanish in this case, of course. Each bite takes me a step closer to sun-drenched days spent on quaint beaches and bicycle rides around the former fishing village of Portixol. See? Food nostalgia.

Italian Table Talk is a monthly discussion on a topic, ingredient, tradition or holiday related to Italian cuisine that I share with fellow bloggers, Giulia from Juls’ Kitchen, Valeria from My Life Love Food and Jasmine from Labna. For more food nostalgia, visit their posts on the subject of la merenda: Giulia goes old school with zuppa inglese, a trifle-inspired Tuscan dessert, Valeria bakes her own grancereale cookies and Jasmine goes the zabaione way. And pop on over to see us on Facebook and join in the discussion.

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14 Responses to “Italian Table Talk: Pane con Pomodoro”
  1. Rosa says:

    A tasty snack! So simple to prepare and highly enjoyable.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Ah, I thought that reminded me of Pa amb oli! I spend every summer in Mallorca and it always brings back great memories, although I live in the land of bruschetta.

    • Emiko says:

      Lucky you, Mallorca is not at all a bad place to be spending every summer! And pa amb oli is just the perfect thing to scoff down after a long day at the beach, if you ask me!

  3. Kirsteen says:

    Oh I’m so happy Mallorca and Portixol got mentioned in this post! I love the tomato + bread + olive oil combination and often find myself making this (particularly when tomatoes are literally the only thing in the fridge!). Have spotted people eating it for breakfast here in Palma too! Really hope we can do another pa amb oli holiday all together soon! X

  4. Kirsteen says:

    p.s. did Marco’s nonna not used to do a red wine + sugar version too?!

  5. Valeria says:

    Funnily enough, I also had my first pane col pomodoro in Spain, in Sevilla to be more precise, and it was served for breakfast together with a few other things. I had no clue about it, and yet, I got soo addicted to it for the whole length of the holiday. That was quite easy, though, as you can really get me with any combination of starch+oil+tomato, being it pasta al pomodoro, friselle, bruschetta al pomdoro, pappa al pomodoro, pomodori stuffed with rice…And I could go on, but that would be a completely different story :)

  6. sabrina says:

    Dear Emiko, I’m Florentine, and all this good food it’s for me like to remember when I was a child, in my grandparents’s house, Pane e pomodoro was my “merenda” together with other simple food like burro e acciughe or ricotta olio sale e pepe…I prepare this things yet, especially when I’m starving before dinner !

  7. I hope lots of children still get this for a snack after school, would be such a shame to let something this simple and good be forgotten!

  8. Pane al pomodoro is my favourite merenda of late summer days, I remember grandma making it with tiny juicy tomatoes from the garden, made with the same precise order you mentioned. The olive oil as last ingredient, generously drizzled, to finish the merenda with another piece of bread and clean the plate! Love it!

  9. Beth Young says:

    I love this for breakfast as well!

  10. stefan says:

    this is very similar to malta’s hobz biz-zejt.

    http://www.tal-forn.com/2013/01/hobz-biz-zejt-u-l-kunserva/

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