Tapas is a great culinary tradition of Spain. I love serving tapas at parties because it gives me a chance to cook lots of things that wouldn’t ordinarily go together in a traditional meal. The way it works in Spain is that most bars serve a variety of little plates of food to accompany your beer or glass of wine or sherry. Some of the typical tapas are tortillas (a potato and onion much like a frittata), garlic shrimp, a few slices of Spanish serrano ham, fried potatoes or potato salad with tuna fish…and the possibilities are endless. Seville is the capital of the Tapas bar and since I just came back from Seville I was quite excited to try some of the interesting tapas I tasted there.
The idea for a tapas party is that you have some dishes prepared ahead of time and some, like the shrimp cooked last minute. You serve a few good wines and sherries to accompany the little platters of the tasty treats that come forth from your kitchen.
Here are some of the wonderful tapas I’ve served at my recent dinner parties:
Spanish tortillas: Start with a nonstick 12 inch skillet heated up and coated with olive oil. Fry coarsely chopped sweet onions until soft and beginning to brown, remove to a large bowl. Peel and cube 3-4 medium potatoes into ¼- 1/2 inch dice and fry them in olive oil until beginning to brown and almost cooked through. Add to the onions. Beat 5-6 eggs until well combined and add to the potato and onion mixture stirring well to distribute the onions and potato. Salt to your taste. Coat the skillet again with olive oil and add the egg mixture. When the mixture has browned on the bottom, you are ready to turn it over to cook the other side. Carefully take the frying pan to a sink. Place a large dinner plate (12”) upside down over the frying pan. With one hand on the frying pan handle and the other on top of the plate to hold it steady, quickly turn the frying pan over and the omelet will “fall” onto the plate. Place the frying pan back on the range and put just enough oil to cover the bottom and sides of the pan – approximately 1.5 tsp. Let the pan warm for 30 seconds or so. Now slide the omelet (which is probably still a bit runny), into the frying pan, using a spatula to catch any egg mixture that runs out. Use the spatula to shape the sides of the omelet. Let the omelet cook for 3-4 minutes or until the tortilla is set and beginning to brown. Turn the heat off and let the tortilla sit in the pan for 2 minutes.
Carefully slide the omelet onto a plate! To serve as a main course, slice it into 6-8 pieces like a pie. Serve sliced French bread on the side.
Chickpeas and spinach: Fry a small chopped onion d in a skillet or pot that has been coated with olive oil. When the onions are beginning to brown, Add a 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and 1 teaspoon of Spanish smoked paprika. Fry together for 1-2 minutes and then add ½ cup of chicken or vegetable broth. Meanwhile cook a pound of spinach and drain off the water. When the chicken broth has been reduced by about half, add the spinach and salt to your taste and cook together for 5-10 minutes. You can serve right away or refrigerate and heat up the next day. Before serving add a dash of good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Chickpeas are a very commonly served tapa in Spain
Shrimp with garlic and sherry: Start with a pot or frying pan and add olive oil covering the bottom with about an inch. Slice 3-4 peeled garlic into thin slices. Add them to the pot of olive oil and heat. Watch the garlic closely and wait till it is fragrant but not brown. Add 1 pound of peeled shrimp and let them cook together adjusting the temperature so that the garlic does not brown. Add salt to taste. When the shrimp are just pink, add ¼ cup sherry ( I use Amontillado) and boil together. If you want an extra garlic kick (and I always do) chop up or use a garlic press and add another couple cloves of garlic at the last minute. Serve this right away, bubbling hot with some good bread to sop of every drop of the wonderful sauce. Once you’ve tried this, you may not want to have shrimp cooked any other way.
Scallop, shrimp and asparagus terrine: Starting with Julia Child’s fish terrine, I came up with this simpler and show stopping version. If you love scallops this is one of the greatest way to enjoy essence of scallop, but you need to use the best scallops you can find.
Start by heating up your oven to 350 degrees ?. Place a large oven proof dish in the oven which is big enough to hold your terrine and ½ filled with hot water. I used a lasagna pan.
Take a pound of scallops (minus 2 large scallops that you’ve set aside) and an egg and puree them together in a food processor for several minutes until very smooth. Meanwhile chop up the scallops and 5 large shrimp into a coarse 1/4 inch dice. Blanch ½ pound of asparagus and slice them in half if they are thick.
Back to the food processor: add ½ cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup 1/2 and 1/2 and a small pinch of saffron that you’ve soaked in ¼ cup of hot cognac. Blend this together for a couple of minutes and then add 1/3 cup of bread crumbs, and blend until the mixture is very smooth. Stir in the scallop and shrimp pieces.. Add salt to your liking. Use a 6 cup terrine (or loaf plan) that has been lined on the bottom with buttered parchment cut to fit. Pour in half the scallop mousse and thump the pan a little to distribute evenly. Then distribute the asparagus over the top, salt the asparagus and add the second batch of mousse. Cover with another piece of parchment and either the top of the terrine or another piece of aluminum foil placed over the top. Put your terrine carefully into the pan with water that has been heating in the oven. Cook for 60 minutes and check for doneness. The internal temperature should be 160 degrees?. This terrine can be served hot or cold. It is very rich so keep the tapas servings to one slice per person.
Polenta with morels: Yesterday we found some beautiful morels and I came up with this recipe to showcase them.
Mushroom mixture: Start with finely chopped onions that have been gently browned in a combination of butter and olive oil. Set aside when soft and beginning to brown. Set the onions aside. Fry the morels (that have been sliced in half or if larger, sliced in quarters and cleaned). If you need more mushrooms, add some regular baby belas or any combination of wild or domestic sliced mushrooms, enough to feed your guests or family. Cook the morels separately and set aside with the onions. The morels need to be cooked medium high so they get a little crispy. Fry the rest of the mushrooms until cooked and then bring back the morels and onions to the frying pan. Cook and mix together, taste for saltiness and add ¼ cup of Marsala wine and ¼ cup chicken or vegetable broth and cook together for 4-5 minutes until most of the liquid is gone. Set aside and make the polenta.
Creamy polenta; Put one cup water and one cup corn meal in a saucepan and stir until mixed. Then add two cups of hot chicken or vegetable stock and cook over medium heat until it thickens into a creamy texture (like a thin mashed potato). You need to be stirring pretty constantly so it doesn’t develop lumps. Add ¼ cup of parmesan or Romano cheese or a mix of the two and another1/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese and stir until melted and incorporated into the polenta. Add salt to taste.
To serve, use a small plate and mound about a 1/3 cup of polenta covered by a big spoonful of mushrooms. Sprinkle with parsley for garnish if desired.
To round out your tapas meal you can serve nice crusty bread, lots of good olive oil for bread dipping or to drizzle over your tapas, along with olives and salad.