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GOOD COOKING

Tomato of Spain, I Adore You

July 08, 1993|ABBY MANDEL

At its best, Spanish cooking is straightforward and uncomplicated, often without even a garnish of fresh herbs. Now, with the sun-ripened tomatoes of summer becoming available, is the perfect time to try the following Spanish recipes, which depend on sweet tomatoes, ripened on the vine, for their success.

To be sure, there are other sorts of Spanish cooking--sophisticated restaurants with complex dishes, or elaborate tourist restaurants--but in the rustic restaurants that the locals frequent, the food was so simple that, once again, I was reminded that excellent ingredients, skillfully handled, are best enjoyed in their simplest form.

The Spanish version of bruschetta , Pan de Tomate , is utterly simple. It would make a great beginner with drinks or a perfect partner with a salad of mixed greens and cheese. There's a tapas salad made with shrimp and vegetables that is ideal for a light hors d'oeuvre.

Although the Andalusian gazpacho is good made with canned tomatoes, it is truly superb with great fresh tomatoes. Unlike the gazpacho with chopped vegetables that many people are accustomed to, this version is smooth and thick (with the addition of bread). Garnishes aren't required, but diced cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, onions and croutons can be served on the side if you like.

Garlic and olive oil are constants in these recipes, along with the tomatoes, and their quality is critical. Use garlic that is firm, mild and young (without green sprouts in the center of the clove, which indicate the garlic is mature and strong). Spanish olive oil is fruity yet well-rounded; it's basic to Spanish cooking and its flavor definitely enhances these recipes.

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At El Lando restaurant in Madrid, Pan de Tomate comes to each table in about a 9-inch square, about 3/4-inch thick. Short of baking your own bread, a crusty baguette will work just fine. This tomato mixture should stand at room temperature for at least two hours before using.

PAN DE TOMATE (Spanish Tomato Bread) 2 large cloves garlic, minced 2 large firm but ripe tomatoes, juice and seeds removed, cut into 1/3-inch dice 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sugar 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil Cayenne pepper

1 large baguette, split horizontally, each half trimmed to 3/4-inch thickness

Combine garlic, tomatoes, salt, sugar, oil and cayenne pepper to taste in small bowl. Let mixture stand at room temperature at least 2 hours, or up to 5 hours.

Grill or broil cut baguette surfaces until lightly browned. Spoon tomato mixture over halves, dividing as evenly as possible. Cut into serving pieces. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about: 279 calories; 602 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 19 grams fat; 24 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.52 gram fiber.

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This Andalusian version of the Spanish classic may not have the vibrant color many of us are accustomed to in gazpacho, but the taste is definitely there. Thick and sustaining, this gazpacho does not require the crunch of fresh garnishes, but you can serve them on the side if you want.

GAZPACHO ANDALUZ 1 (2-ounce) piece crustless coarse bread 2 medium cloves garlic 1 small onion 1 large cucumber, peeled, split lengthwise, seeded, cut into chunks 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, juice and seeds removed, quartered 3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon salt Cayenne pepper 1/4 to 1/2 cup water

Hold bread under running water to saturate, then squeeze out liquid. Put bread, garlic, onion and cucumber into processor work bowl fitted with metal blade. Process until pureed. Add tomatoes in 2 batches and puree. Add vinegar, olive oil, salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Process until well mixed. Add water to thin out soup as desired.

In 2 batches, smooth out texture of soup in blender. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Before serving, stir well and adjust seasonings to taste. Serve immediately. Makes about 6 servings, about 5 1/2 cups.

Each serving contains about: 206 calories; 663 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 20 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 2.07 grams fiber.

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This is a refreshing, simple salad to have on hand for weekends. It works for hors d'oeuvres, picnic baskets or a light lunch when it's arranged on mixed greens. It's easy enough to increase the quantity as needed. The salad should be made at least four hours before serving to allow the flavors to meld together.

SHRIMP AND VEGETABLE SALAD 2 medium cloves garlic, minced 1 large firm but ripe tomato, juiced and seeded, cut into 1/3-inch dice 1/2 large green pepper, cut into 1/3-inch dice 1/4 onion, cut into 1/3-inch dice 1 pickling cucumber, peeled, split lengthwise, seeded, cut into 1/3-inch dice 10 large shrimp, cooked, shelled and cut into 1/3-inch pieces 3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1/2 teaspoon salt Cayenne pepper

Place garlic, tomato, green pepper, onion, cucumber, shrimp, vinegar, olive oil, salt and cayenne pepper to taste in 6-cup bowl. Toss well to combine. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, up to 8 hours, before serving.

To serve, mix well. Adjust seasoning and vinegar to taste. Serve chilled. Makes 4 tapas servings.

Each serving contains about: 171 calories; 352 mg sodium; 54 mg cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 5 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.56 gram fiber.

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