Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Little Plates

Tapas are delightful little plates of appetizers and are generally enjoyed by sharing several with everyone at the table, sometimes to make an entire meal. The word "tapa" means "cover", or "lid" in Spanish. The origin of of tapas is unclear to say the least, but here are a couple of the most popular theories:

*King Alfonso X of Castile liked to order his wine with a small plate or a piece of ham on top to keep flies and sand out. Eventually taverns began putting little bits of food on these small plates.

*King Alfonso X insisted that all Castilian taverns serve small plates of food with each glass of wine to ensure that patrons would not get drunk too easily.

*Tavern owners realized that serving small portions or salty meats with the sweet sherry wines made the patrons thirsty, boosting sales more than enough to make up for the cost of the meat.

While it may (or may not) be fun to speculate what the origin of tapas is, one thing is for sure as far as I am concerned: it is fun to eat them. There are traditional dishes that are made into tapas like torilla de pata, fried calamari, olives, cheeses, serrano ham, croquettes, and patas bravas, but any food can be enjoyed in the tapas-style of eating (there is always wine involved). I made a modest assortment of tapas for a Sunday night dinner this week so these are the recipes I am sharing below:


5 oz thinly sliced bacon (or jamon)
24 large uncooked, headless prawns, peeled
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 lemons, quartered

Cut the bacon (or jamon, if using it) into pieces which will wrap generously round the prawns. Place the wrapped prawns down flat on a board and skewer them through the fattest part and the tail, making sure the bacon is firmly fixed. Season generously and drizzle with the oil.

On a high heat, griddle, grill or barbecue place the prawn and bacon skewers
for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until the bacon crisps up. Alternatively , roast in a hot oven (425ºF) on an oiled baking tray for 8-10 minutes. Squeeze over the juice of the lemon wedges and serve immediately.


4 servings

1/2 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 (8 ounce) package brie cheese, round
1/8 C toasted walnuts, chopped (or whatever nut you want)
1/4 C fruit preserves

Preheat oven to 425.

Lightly grease cookie sheet.
Roll puff pastry out slightly.
Place cheese wheel on top (leave rind on).
Place preserves on top of cheese.
Place walnuts on top of preserves.
Bundle Puff Pastry up and around the cheese.
Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Let cool for five minutes.

Serve with your favorite crackers, pita chips, or whatever sounds good to you! You can also be creative with the preserves. You can switch it up if you don’t want it to be a sweet dish and use a tomato, pesto or olive mixture with pine nuts instead.


For 4-5 servings

2 large tomatoes
6 oz buffalo mozzarella cheese (it should come in a package about the size/shape of a baseball)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 4oz bag of mixed greens
chopped fresh basil to taste
salt and black pepper to taste

Slice tomatoes in thick-ish slices (about 1/2 inch)
Slice cheese about the same thickness as tomato slices
Place tomato slices flat on top of a light bed of mixed greens and place a slice of cheese on top of each tomato slice
Drizzle or brush the olive oil on top followed by the balsamic vinegar.
Sprinkle the fresh basil, salt and pepper to taste over top.


This is so easy you do not really need a recipe. It is just a staple in Spanish cuisine. You just need to cut a baguette longways down the middle, rub it down with a clove of fresh garlic, and toast it slightly. Cut a ripe, juicy tomato down the middle and squeeze it over/smear it onto the bread, rubbing it in well. Drizzle some olive oil (to taste) over the bread, followed by some sea salt (to taste). This bread goes well with Iberico ham, olives, or manchego cheese. It can also add an amazing twist to a traditional grilled manchego cheese sandwich.

Don't forget to set out some small bowls with sliced manchego cheese and whole Spanish green olives along with these little plates and a nice full-bodied red wine.

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