In response to a special request from a reader, I wanted to take an afternoon break and talk tapas. As the days grow warmer and the nights grow longer, tapas are the perfect mid-evening patio snack.
As you may have witnessed in Spain, dinner is often served at 9, 10, 11 p.m. and beyond, making a small plate of food in the mid-afternoon or early evening essential (to boosting your energy so that you may dance at the disco until 3am). But more than merely a famish-prevention mechanism, tapas offer an opportunity to pause at the end of a long day and enjoy some epicurean delights.
If you are interested in culinary anthropology, as am I (thanks Alton Brown), you might be intrigued by the roots of this Spanish past-time, which I discovered in The Joy of Cooking. Tapas comes from the Spanish verb, "tapar," meaning "to cover." In bars throughout Andalucia, sherry drinkers were given bits of bread topped with meat to cover their glasses and prevent pesky fruit flies from sipping on their sweet libation. Bartenders soon noticed that cured meats like ham and chorizo also made the bar patrons thirsty, increasing alcohol sales. And, just like that, a match was made in culinary heaven...
You need not be in Barcelona or Madrid, however, to partake in tapas time. Next time you serve an especially late weekend dinner, start with some tapas to tame your hunger. Savor a glass (or three) of sangria. Play a little Gipsy Kings. In no time, you'll be transported to Espana.
But, what to serve for your tapas? Tortilla espanola is a classic potato omelette (very much like a quiche) that can be served room temperature and is easily jazzed up with a dollop of aioli or some pureed roasted red peppers. A little crusty bread is essential for most any tapas service, as bread soaks up all of the yummy briney juices that emanate from olives or pickled peppers.
Another tapas must-have are slices of Serrano ham (similar to Italy's prosciutto) and manchego cheese.
At my favorite tapas restaurant in Maryland, José Andrés' Jaleo, the certain star of the tapas menu were the "datiles con tocino," dates wrapped in bacon and deep fried. Wipe your drool, yes, they were that good.
Once you provide the basics, tapas are only limited by your imagination. Just keep your choices to small, two to three bites per guest. I aim to present mostly ready-made goodies like olives, ham, cheese and bread, and then make one special nibbly bite. Salud! Images borrowed from MuyMalbec, AdventuresInAndalucia, RidgeEstateOliveOil & Latina.
24 minutes ago