ANYONE who has ever followed their nose around a Spanish town or village will at some point have entered a tapas bar or bodega. Most people just follow the crowds, because participating in the “tapeo” (tapa-hopping) is part and parcel of the Spaniards social scene. The Spanish love to congregate and converse (loudly if possible) in the cool interior of a typical wine bar with clay-tiled floors, serrano hams hanging, drying from the ceiling and a bar top overflowing with colourful, tantalizing little portions of food, tempting to be eaten. The aromas of garlic, parsley, olive oil, peppers and saffron wafting from the kitchen is what draws you in, most times you will have to push your way to the bar (a little elbowing is permitted) to shout your order to the camarerro. Tapas are extremely varied, hot or cold, from simple to inspired, each region or even bar has its own specialties, you can eat a few as a prelude to dinner or eat a lot, hopping from bar to bar until you've had your fill. The literal translation of tapa is “top” or “cover” and although there are various theories to their origins the most plausible one is this... the sherry houses of Andalusia placed a small plate over the glasses of wine to protect them from fruit flies and dust. A slice of bread and a tiny piece of local ham were placed on top to entice clients to the wine bar, and the saltiness of the ham helped to sell more sherries. Before long the cooks from the bars would be creating evermore elaborate dishes to attract more customers and out-do the competition, and so the tapa was born. It has been said that “participating in the tapeoprovides an opportunity to feel the pulse of the nation” and with its diversity, colour and exuberance I think that sums it up for me. Tapas can be as simple as you make them, slices of serrano ham, marinated olives or fried anchovies etc. The following recipes are also simple and can be prepared in advance leaving you free to enjoy the company of your guests and stop them from drinking all your rioja while you slave away in the kitchen.

TORTILLA ESPAÑOLA
· 6 whole eggs
l 4 large potatoes (peeled and finely sliced) l 1 Spanish onion (finely chopped) l 1 small green pepper (finely chopped)
· 300ml olive oil
· seasoning
l Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed non-stick frying pan and fry the potatoes gently for 8-10 minutes until they start to soften. Add the chopped onion and green pepper and cook for a further 3-4 minutes. Place a large sieve over a bowl and carefully strain the potatoes. Beat the eggs in a clean bowl and add the warm potatoes to the beaten eggs. Season to taste.

Heat a spoonful of the olive oil in the frying and add the egg mixture, stir with a wooden spoon and cook until golden brown on the bottom. Place a large plate or saucepan lid over the mixture, carefully turn the tortilla over. Return to the frying pan and cook slowly until the tortilla is firm in the middle. Slide the tortilla onto a large plate and serve.

ENSALADILLA RUSA
(RUSSIAN SALAD serves 4)
· 400g potatoes
l 200g carrots, peeled and diced
· 100g cooked peas
l 100g cooked French beans, chopped l 1 boiled egg, peeled and chopped
· 2 small tins of tuna
l 12 green olives, roughly chopped
· 150ml mayonnaise
l Boil the potatoes in their skins until just cooked. Drain and leave to cool.
Boil the diced carrots until just cooked, drain well and place in a large bowl.
Add the cooked peas, chopped beans, green olives and tuna meat to the carrots. Peel and dice the potatoes and add them to the other vegetables. Fold in the mayonnaise, chopped egg and refrigerate until required.

AJOARRIERO (BASQUE
STYLE SALT COD serves 4)
· 500g salt cod
l 5 garlic cloves, chopped l 1 green pepper, chopped l 1 small onion, chopped l 5 tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
· 2 tbsp tomato puree
l 2 tbsp choricero pepper puree (optional')
· 1 tsp chopped chives
· Olive oil
l Sweat the onions and green peppers in a little olive oil, add the garlic, tomatoes, tomato puree and choricero puree and cook out for about 5-6 minutes. It should have the consistency of a thick soup. Add the salt cod and cook out for 3-4 minutes then sprinkle with chopped chives, season and serve. *Choricero peppers are dried red peppers from Navarra. They need to be soaked overnight in cold water and the pulp is then scrapped free from the skin. A puree is available in jar form in most Spanish supermarkets.

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