This sandwich was inspired by my neighbor Mario, whose roots are in Malta, the tiny Mediterranean island nation off the coast of Italy. Many Maltese emigrants settled in San Francisco in the early 20th century, including Mario's family. Malta's language and cuisine reflect its waves of migration and former colonizers, with inflections of Sicily, Moorish Spain, Northern Africa, France and Britain. Here in San Francisco, if you look carefully, you'll notice Maltese crosses adorning not just the local fire station, but the facades of houses and former churches on our streets. In honor of Mario's roots, I'd like to introduce a classic Maltese dish which relies upon the vine-ripened tomatoes of summer, like the ones Mario hands me by the bagful over our shared fence. A favorite light dish features Maltese bread, a sourdough with a great crust and a soft interior. This is traditionally rubbed with the cut side of a perfectly ripe summer tomato. This is the Maltese bread and tomato sandwich, or Hobz biz-zejt u t-tadam. It can be eaten on its own, or as a base for a rustic sandwich featuring the wonderful canned tuna or anchovies of the Mediterranean. The sandwich combines the Spanish pan con tomate, with fillings reminiscent of the French salade Nicoise. It was traditionally served as a simple but hearty lunch for workers. —Beautiful, Memorable Food
4 to 6
loaf of crusty sourdough bread or ciabatta
very ripe, large, juicy tomatoes, any variety except Roma
hardboiled eggs, sliced
can Italian solid packed tuna in olive oil, such as Cento brand
cooked cannelini or other white beans
olives, pitted and sliced (your favorite variety)
red onion, very thinly sliced
fresh basil and mint leaves
olive oil to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Garnish: your choice of assorted pickled vegetables
Slice bread into 4 sections, then slice each section in half.
Lightly toast sliced bread and set aside.
Cut tomatoes in half, then grate cut edges on largest holes of a box grater, capturing all pulp and juices and removing skins. Set aside in a bowl. (Traditionally, the tomato is cut and rubbed against the cut surface of the bread, but I prefer my method, which is less messy and keeps the bread more intact.)
Spoon and spread some of the tomato pulp and juices onto each piece of toasted bread.
Serve on a plate alongside an assortment of the remaining ingredients to layer into an open-faced sandwich. I recommend topping first with tuna, then with beans and olives, then garnishing with slices of onion and herbs.