The first time we went to Alquibla in Algorfa – which has since become our favourite ‘abuelo’ restaurant – we were served with bread, ali oli and tomato paste while we waited for the salad. It seemed much more interesting than boring old butter, and of course, it was healthier. At that time, my Spanish wasn’t up to dragging the recipe out of the waiter, but on my next shopping trip, I spotted tomato paste in the cold cabinet at Consum.
It was okay, but nowhere near as good as the restaurant version, and at just over a Euro for a small tub, it was hardly economical. A swift surf on the Internet turned up a recipe, and it’s surprisingly easy to make. Just grate some tomatoes – yes, you heard that right. Simply rub the pointy end of the tomato over the grater teeth, and the skin will peel away gracefully to form a protective shield for your fingertips. Or if it’s one of those huge tomatoes that’s almost the size of Murcia, you might want to cut it in half.
Grating also helps you to get every bit of flesh from the tomato, but be sure to use a grater with an integrated bowl, or things could get very messy. Oh, and make sure the lid is firmly in place too, because tomato paste is good for many things, but cleaning marble floors isn’t one of them.
Once you have enough grated tomato, drizzle in some olive oil, and add freshly ground black pepper to taste. If the mixture seems a little slack – maybe because the tomatoes are very ripe – stir in a little tomato frito to bind it together.You can also add some crushed or grated garlic if you want, but I find it masks the clean, fresh taste of the tomatoes a little. I make up a load, and keep it in the fridge. If it’s covered, it will keep for several days.
Tomato paste makes a great breakfast spread on toast for tostada con tomate, and it’s a good way to use up yesterday’s barra de pan. If you want a meal in a hurry, saute some onions, peppers, mushrooms, garlic and taquitos of serrano ham. Then add some tomato paste, heat through and serve over pasta. Delicious! I also add it to soups and stews as a thickening agent, or use it as a spread instead of butter.
I must tell you about my favourite sandwich. I spread one slice of wholemeal bread with tomato paste, and another with ali oli. Then I add tuna and sweetcorn for a tasty sandwich which is low on fat and calories. With the ali oli and tomato paste, you don’t need to add extra mayonnaise to the tuna, and you’re saving more calories by not using butter. This is a Very Good Thing – after all, the calories for the cava have to come from somewhere, don’t they?
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