A Little Something


Appetizers are my family's favorite part of dinner. From there, we could go straight to dessert. So it's not surprising that my husband and I fell in love with tapas years ago when visiting our daughter, who was spending the spring of her junior year in college in Madrid.

Hailing from Andalusia, in southernmost Spain, tapas are appetizers once given as free nibbles in bars, included in the price of drinks. Today, they are popular throughout Spain, often served as half-portions before meals. Likewise, many people indulge in tapas and drinks in the evening, to tide them over until supper. No respectable Spaniard would dream of dining before 10 p.m.
People usually order a variety of tapas, sharing these piquant delicacies with everyone at the table. There are infinite varieties of recipes, with each town boasting its own specialty.
While my family always ate dinner on the late side by American standards — no earlier than 7:30 p.m. — we couldn't wait until 10:30 p.m., an hour that's nearly past my husband's bedtime.
Quite by accident, we began arriving at tapas bars at our normal dinner hour. We sat outside and ordered enough of these small plates to constitute a meal. As the sun set one glorious day after another, we soaked up each tasty morsel with fresh bread, accompanied by dried fruit and Manchego, a rich sheep-milk cheese.
Since our visit to Madrid in 1995, tapas restaurants have proliferated in America. Many people now throw tapas parties at home in lieu of traditional cocktail fare. Today's trendy restaurants encourage diners to order several "small plates," foregoing the entree entirely.
As the weather gets warmer, I'm starting to prepare my favorite tapas, bringing back delicious Spanish memories.
Marinated Olives
    1 lb. black or green olives (select brine-cured olives with pits, not canned)
    1 garlic clove, skin removed
    1/4 tsp. dried basil
    1/6 tsp. red-pepper flakes
    4 tsps. olive oil
In a colander, rinse the brine from the olives. When drained, pat dry on paper towels. Move to a medium-sized bowl.
Squeeze the garlic through a press. Add squeezed garlic to the olives. Discard the fibrous parts left in the press.
Add remaining ingredients to olives and gently mix until well-combined.
Cover the bowl and marinate for 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Serve at room temperature, providing a tiny bowl for the pits.
Serves about 4.
Sautéed Mushrooms
(Dairy or Pareve)
In Spain, this is made with cream; the use of milk lightens the dish. To prepare a pareve version, do not add milk.
    8 oz. package of mushrooms, preferably pre-sliced
    2 Tbsps. olive oil
    kosher salt to taste
    2 Tbsps. golden sherry, plus a splash
    4 Tbsps. whole milk
Place the mushrooms in a colander and rinse under cold water.
Once drained, pat dry on paper towels.
If they're not pre-sliced, cut them into 1/4-inch slices.
In a small skillet, heat the olive oil on a medium flame. Add the mushrooms. Sprinkle them with salt and stir. Drizzle on 2 tablespoons of sherry, stirring to combine thoroughly.
Continue sautéing until pan juices nearly disappear, about 10 minutes. Remove from flame and cool to warm.
Add the milk and stir well. Heat on a low flame.
Add another splash of sherry. Stir and serve immediately.
Serves 3 to 4 appetizer-size portions.
Tortilla Espanola ('Spanish Omelet')
   1 onion, peeled and cut into slices, about 1/8-inch thick
    8 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed
    kosher salt to taste
    3 large baking potatoes
    4 jumbo eggs
    black pepper to taste
With fingers, separate the onion slices into rings. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
On a medium flame, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot, preferably with a nonstick surface.
Sauté the onion rings until caramelized, but not burnt. Remove to a small mixing bowl and reserve.
Peel the potatoes and rinse under cold water. By hand, slice them as thinly as possible, no more than 1/8-inch thick.
Using the pot from the onion rings, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil on a medium flame. Place about 1/3 of the potato slices in the pot. Sprinkle with salt and stir until slices are coated with oil.
Continue adding potato slices until all of them are coated with oil. Add more oil, at any time, if necessary. Cover the pot and braise until the slices are soft when pierced with a knife point. Stir the potatoes frequently to ensure even cooking. Separate slices that stick together. The potatoes will brown.
Remove from flame; stir in reserved onion rings. Cool to warm.
Whisk the eggs, adding a bit of salt and pepper. Pour eggs over the potato mixture and stir to combine.
In a 10-inch diameter skillet, preferably nonstick, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on a medium flame.
Place egg-potato mixture in the skillet. Cook until the eggs are firm.
Remove skillet from flame and place on a trivet. Place a platter larger in circumference over the skillet. Turn over carefully, flipping the omelet onto the platter.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet. Slide the omelet back into the skillet. Sauté until the bottom is brown.
Cut omelet like a pie to make 8 slices.
Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
In Spain, this recipe is prepared with ground beef. This is a lighter version.
     Sauce Ingredients:
    2 Tbsps. olive oil
    2 Italian plum tomatoes, finely diced
    kosher salt to taste
    1/2 tsp. dried basil
    3 Tbsps. tomato paste
    1 cup water
    2 Tbsps. dry red wine
    kosher salt to taste
    Meatball Ingredients:
    1 lb. ground white-meat turkey
    1/2 cup breadcrumbs
    1 shallot, chopped fine
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    kosher salt to taste
    black pepper to taste
    2 Tbsps. olive oil
To Make the Sauce: In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the olive oil on a medium flame. Add the tomatoes and sauté until tomatoes start to soften. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Continue sautéing until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Reserve.
To Make the Meatballs: Mix together all of the meatball ingredients, except the olive oil, in a large bowl until combined. Dampen hands and form 1-inch, firmly rolled balls. After every few, wet hands and briefly shake them into a paper towel, so hands are damp but not dripping wet. Recipe yields about 32 meatballs.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the meatballs until browned on all sides. Spoon meatballs into tomato sauce and simmer, covered, on a low flame for 20 minutes. Serve hot with slices of crusty bread to mop up the sauce.
Serves 4 to 6 appetizer-size portions.
Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. E-mail her at: [email protected]



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