Outside the vast area of Spain where Catalan is the first language of most people (Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands), Catalans get no respect. Compared to the Greek speakers they outnumber, Catalans might as well be Basques, as far as the benighted rest of the world is concerned. And yet they are a vibrant and influential people with an original cuisine that goes back to medieval times and before (as compared to the insular, backward-looking Greeks, whose cuisine is almost entirely a provincial version of the foods brought to Greece by their Ottoman rulers after the fall of Athens in 1456).
Pa amb tomàquet is a simple peasant dish that may well be the descendant of some pre-Columbian schmeer. But it has become an emblem of a civilization. In addition, it is one of the cleverest and tastiest of all simple concoctions. Scraping tomatoes across toast flavors the toast with a minimal expenditure of tomato. It colors the toast a rich red-pink, something like the color of romesco, the great Catalan sauce. Olive oil and salt complete this Mediterranean miracle in nothing flat.