Chef Malyna Si loves even the tiniest detail. When she isn’t running Capa, the Michelin-starred Spanish-influenced steak house at the Four Seasons Resort in Orlando, Florida, she puts her degree in sculpture from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to use creating immaculate miniature food and tablescapes that she posts on Instagram. “It’s so fun and takes so much patience,” she says.
Paying attention to each step elevates whatever she creates, whether a sculpture or even the simplest dish. “I think about everything on every plate,” she says. “Does it all make sense and make something greater than the parts?”
Take pan con tomate (or pa amb tomàquet in Catalan), a Spanish staple that’s essentially nothing more than tomatoes rubbed with a little garlic over toasted bread and finished with olive oil and salt. “It really highlights what you are looking for in a tomato,” she says. Start with the most delicious tomatoes you can find. Overripe ones work best. In Si’s recipe, a hit of sherry vinegar enhances the acid in the tomatoes. Finely grated garlic acts as a supporting character that lets the star ingredient shine.
“The bread is a specific thing, too,” she says. In Spain, pan con tomate is often made with Catalan bread that looks like a wide baguette and has a thin, crispy crust and an airy crumb. Ciabatta is a good alternative. “It shouldn’t be dense,” she says. “You want that mouthfeel to be very light, especially in the summer.”
Trim the ends of the loaf, slice a thin layer from the top, and then slice it horizontally. The idea is to have pieces that will sit flat on a plate. The slices are traditionally brushed all over with olive oil before grilling; Si prefers the taste of butter, but she warns that it can burn easily. Either way, it’s best to toast the bread over a medium-hot part of the grill. “The bread should have some char, but you don’t want the char to create a bitterness that will overpower the flavor of the tomato,” she says. Straining the tomato pulp carefully also matters. Leave in too much liquid and the bread will become instantly soggy. (As a bonus, you can freeze the juice that remains into cubes for a Bloody Mary or just drink it as a little cook’s treat.)
Pan con tomate is lovely on its own, but Si likes to finish it with some torn basil. Cheese also makes a nice addition. She suggests a young, creamy Manchego that has been aged three months. If you still doubt that details matter, consider that her version of pan con tomate is so popular she served more than ten thousand orders of it last year. “Good things don’t have to be complicated,” she says. “But when a dish is simple, there isn’t anything to hide behind.”