Snibbles, we call them in our house. Snacks and nibbles combined.
Tapas, they call them in Spain. Small bites of satisfying flavours to enjoy with a beverage of choice. Lemonade for the young ones; beer, spiked wine and cocktails for the rest of us.
I enjoy having tapas in place of a traditional meat-and-veg meal anytime. Perhaps it's the relaxed way everyone hangs around the table, lingering over food and drink. Perhaps it's the conversation that gets livelier the deeper we get into the beer and wine stash. Perhaps it's the fact that most small-plate snacks can be made in advance, so the cook relaxes.
Tapas make perfect picnic fare. They epitomise outdoor summer goodness.
To pack up your tapas picnic, put everything into attractive, shallow containers with tight lids.
Line two trays with baking paper, and arrange assorted cheeses on one tray and thinly sliced hams and salami on the other. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap for transporting. Refrigerate everything, and then pack in coolers with ice packs.
I also tote along a bottle of Spanish olive oil and a shallow rimmed bowl to pour it into, along with a basket to hold crackers and sliced baguette. Bring plenty of small plates, wooden picks and forks for eating.
Add a cooler of chilled beer, ice cubes and tall glasses for the sparkling sangria.
Then enjoy a night of nibbling and good conversation under the stars with friends.
SPANISH TAPAS MENU FOR 8
■ Thick and creamy tomato gazpacho (salmorejo) (recipe below)
■ Toasted bread spread with crushed tomatoes, olive oil and salt
■ Carrots, beets, mushrooms and/or radishes marinated in smoky sherry vinaigrette (recipe below)
■ Chorizo and potato tortillas(recipe below)
■ Skewers of cooked prawns sprinkled with olive oil and herbs
■ Assorted olives
■ Platter of sliced or cubed assorted cheese, such as manchego, a blue cheese and a soft goat's cheese
■ Platter of very thinly sliced jamon and salami, including Spanish Iberico ham
■ Basket of sliced baguette bread and plain crackers
■ Spanish olive oil in a bottle with a pour spout
■ Sparkling berry rose sangria (recipe below)
■ Assorted beers
I first enjoyed one of Spain's most iconic tapas dishes, tortilla espanola, a rich potato omelette, a decade ago when seated at the counter at Cal Pep, a favourite tapas bar in Barcelona.
4 or 5 medium-size potatoes (about 450g), scrubbed
extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish
½ medium onion, very thinly sliced
170g-200g fully cooked chorizo sausage, very thinly sliced
¼ cup chicken stock
1 tsp salt
½ tsp smoked or sweet paprika
aioli or chopped fresh herbs, to serve
1. Cut potatoes into 1cm dice and put into a microwave-safe bowl with ½ cup water. Cover with plastic wrap vented at one corner. Microwave on high until potatoes are fork-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and cool.
2. Heat a large nonstick frypan over medium heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil; add onion. Cook and stir until onion is tender and slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add chorizo slices and potatoes; cook and stir to blend flavours, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. For each tortilla, whisk together 2 of the eggs, 3 teaspoons of stock, ¼ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon paprika in a small bowl. Add a quarter of the potato mixture and stir well.
4. Set a small (15cm) non-stick frypan over medium heat until it's hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle on contact. Add 3 teaspoons of oil to pan, and swirl to coat the pan with the oil. Gently pour the egg-potato mixture into the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Lift the edges of the eggs as they cook to allow the liquid egg to run underneath. When most of the liquid is set, use a spatula to smooth the mixture into an even layer. Let cook, moving and shaking the frypan until the top surface is set but still quite moist, about 3 minutes.
5. Run a silicon spatula around and under the eggs to be sure nothing is sticking. Then set a plate just slightly larger than the skillet over the frypan. Very carefully invert the tortilla onto the plate. Reduce the heat under the skillet to low and add a little oil if the pan looks dry. Slide the tortilla back into the skillet with the cooked side up. Cook over low just to set the eggs, about 1 or 2 minutes more.
6. Once again flip the tortilla onto a plate. Repeat to make three more tortillas, wiping the pan clean between each before adding oil.
7. Serve the tortillas warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges. Garnish with a dollop of aioli, or sprinkle with herbs. Tortillas can be made 2 days in advance and kept covered in the fridge.
Toss vegetables – such as carrots, beetroot with onion, mushrooms or radishes (see below for prep) – in this vinaigrette, then let them stand to absorb the smoky flavour.
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish
2 to 3 tbsp sherry vinegar, or red wine vinegar, or a combination
2 small cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp minced fresh thyme leaves or ⅛ tsp dried thyme
Put all ingredients into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well. Refrigerate covered up to 1 week. Use at room temperature.
Makes ¾ cup
Herby garlic carrots
450g (about 10) skinny carrots with leafy tops
¼ cup smoky sherry vinaigrette, see recipe above
½ tsp minced fresh tarragon, optional
1. Trim off and set aside carrot tops to use as a garnish. Lightly peel the carrots, then slice crosswise into ½ cm-thick coins.
2. Heat a saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add carrots; cook uncovered until crisp-tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 5 minutes. Drain.
3. Put warm carrots into a small bowl, and add vinaigrette; toss to mix well. Add salt to taste. Stir in tarragon if using. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes or so. Serve garnished with a teaspoon or so of finely chopped carrot tops. Or, refrigerate up to 2 days; serve at room temperature.
Beets and onion: Substitute 450g small beetroots for the carrots. Trim and peel the beetroots, then cut in half through the stem end. Cut into 1cm-thick wedges. Cook as directed, increasing the time to 10 minutes. Toss the drained beetroots with ¼ cup thinly sliced white onion and the vinaigrette. Season with salt. Let stand 30 minutes or so. Serves 6.
Garlicky mushrooms: Substitute 450g small button mushrooms for the carrots. Cut mushrooms in half and place in a microwave-safe bowl with 1 clove garlic cut into fine slivers and 3 teaspoons of water. Cover and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Drain well. Toss mushrooms with 2 or 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette while warm. Season with salt. Serve garnished with fresh thyme leaves. Serves 6.
Marinated radishes: Trim the ends from 1 pound small radishes. Put into a bowl, and add 2 or 3 tablespoons vinaigrette and coarse salt to taste. Let stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving.
A high-powered blender makes quick work of this soup. If using a food processor or regular blender, be sure to run the machine long enough to make the mixture absolutely smooth. You can substitute 800g of tinned crushed tomatoes for the ripe tomatoes. Tote it in a cooler along with a small container of garnishes to enjoy at the beach or an outdoor concert. Serve the soup with rosé wine, a wedge of manchego cheese and crusty bread.
1½ cups panko breadcrumbs
1 cup water
6 small, round, ripe tomatoes (about 680g), deseeded and roughly chopped
1 mild red chilli, halved, seeded, roughly chopped
2 or 3 small cloves garlic, halved
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish
2 tsp sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar
1 to 1¼ tsp salt
chopped hard-boiled egg and/or diced prosciutto, to garnish
1. Put half of the breadcrumbs and ½ cup water into a blender. Add half of the tomatoes, pepper and garlic. Puree until absolutely smooth. Then add half of the oil in a slow steady stream while the blender runs. Transfer to a bowl, and repeat with the remaining breadcrumbs, water, tomatoes, chilli, garlic and oil.
2. Season the mixture with the vinegar and salt. Chill thoroughly. (The gazpacho will keep refrigerated up to 2 days.)
3. Serve chilled in small glasses garnished with the egg and/or ham. Pass spoons.
For sangria, choose a rosé wine that is slightly fruity and not too pricey. The vermouth is optional, but I like the bitter qualities it adds to this rather sweet cocktail. The kombucha adds a light sparkle and cuts the sweetness or use soda water for bolder bubbles.
1 bottle Spanish rosé wine
½ cup orange liqueur, such as Cointreau or triple sec
½ cup sweet red vermouth
¼ cup simple syrup
1 cup thinly sliced, small, ripe strawberries
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
¼ small orange, very thinly sliced
apple- or berry-flavoured kombucha, or soda water
1. Mix wine, liqueur, vermouth and simple syrup in a glass jug; add fruit. Refrigerate until very cold.
2. Serve over ice, and add a splash of kombucha or sparkling water.