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Where would Spanish cooking be today without the tomato?

No tomato ‘gazpacho’, that delicious cold soup, perhaps better described as a liquid salad and, today, known the world over, and no‘sofrito’ – the sauce made from onions, garlic, olive oil and the all-important tomato, which forms the basis for many delicious Spanish dishes. Or ‘Carne con Tomate’ – ‘Meat with Tomato’, whose name sounds so much better in Spanish, but is a truly delicious pork casserole where the meat is cooked in a tomato-heavy sofrito, and soaks up all their wonderful flavour.

Photo - www.across-spain.es

And let’s not forget ‘La Tomatina’, the food fight par excellence which is held in a small town in Valencia every August. It’s been taking place there for more than six decades and, now, tens of thousands of people descend on Buñol from all over the world to hurl kilos and kilos of over-ripe tomatoes at each other.

The seeds first arrived in Spain in the late 15th to early 16th centuries and, as with some of the other edible plants brought back to the Old World from the New – along with the potato and aubergine – belong to the nightshade or Solanaceae family. Strictly classified as a fruit, the original stock brought over to Europe produced a yellow tomato which was developed over the coming years into hybrids producing red and yellow-coloured fruit. Its main attraction is believed to have been more as an ornamental plant and it was, at one stage, believed to be poisonous.

The name comes from the Aztec word ‘tomatl’, which, we are told means ‘swollen fruit’.
Today, it has become an essential ingredient in Spanish cooking and you will find it, in one form or another, on every menu. One of the most delicious starts to the day can be toast with tomato and olive oil, with a clove of garlic rubbed onto the toast before you either spread on fresh, crushed tomato or rub on a raw half tomato and then sprinkle with salt and drizzle on a good quality olive oil.

It works best with toasted baguette. A mouth watering variation is a ‘catalana’, where some thinly sliced jamón serrano is added on the top.