You’ll love tapas

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 2, 2011

In Spain, a passion for food is part of everyday life. With a rich history driven by the influence of colonial invaders, avid exploration of the new world during the 16th century, its shared borders with France and the exchange of goods with its Mediterranean neighbors, Spain has developed a captivating and uniquely diverse cuisine.

What I like about the Spanish way of eating is the tapas. Tapas are a variety of small bites served at bars throughout Spain. They can range from a simple bowl of olives or almonds, to elegant dishes of Serrano-wrapped shrimp or Proscuitto-wrapped figs. When it comes to tapas, there are very few rules. In fact, the whole spirit of tapas revolves around two concepts: flexibility and conviviality.

The tapas concept has taken hold in the states. Many restaurants are offering small plates. It is a perfect way to try new flavors and to sample a variety of foods, rather than filling up on one dish.

It is also a great way to entertain at home. It is like a long cocktail hour without having to serve the whole sit down meal.

Here are some easy tapas to serve to your guests. I’ve included some hot and some cold dishes, so you can pick and choose what pleases you.

Paprika-Spiced Almonds

1 cup whole blanched almonds

¼ teaspoon olive oil

¼ teaspoon coarse salt

¼ teaspoon paprika or smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the almonds in single layer in shallow baking pan. Bake 8-10 minutes or until almonds are lightly browned. Transfer to bowl. Cool for five to 10 minutes.

Toss almonds with oil until completely coated. Sprinkle with salt and paprika; toss again.

Tip: For the best flavor, serve these almonds the day they are made.

Citrus-Marinated Olives

Makes 2 cups

1 cup (about 8 ounces) large green olives, drained

1 cup kalamata olives, rinsed and drained (These are the Greek olives and can be found in all stores).

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup orange juice

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon grated orange peel

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in medium bowl. Cover and let stand overnight at room temperature; refrigerate up to two weeks.

Spanish Tortilla

Tortillas are “flat cakes” in Spain. In reality, Spanish tortillas are omelets filled

with flavorful ingredients.

Serves 10-12

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 cup thinly sliced peeled potatoes

1 small zucchini, thinly sliced

¼ cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup shredded cooked chicken

8 eggs

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 plum tomato, seeded and diced (optional)

Salsa (optional)

Heat oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add potatoes, zucchini, onion and garlic; cook and stir about five minutes, turning frequently, until potato is tender. Stir in chicken; cook one minute.

Meanwhile, whisk eggs, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes in large bowl. Carefully pour egg mixture into skillet. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook 12 to 15 minutes or until egg mixture is set in center.

Lossen edges of tortilla and slide onto large serving place. Let stand five minutes before cutting into wedges of 1-inch cubes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with diced tomato and serve with salsa, if desired.

Two Tomato-Kalamata Crostini

Makes 10 servings

8 sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)

5 ounces grape tomatoes, finely chopped

4 ounces baguette bread, cut into 20 (1/4 –inch thick) slices

12 kalamata olives, pitted and finely chopped

2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 ½ teaspoons dried basil (Use some fresh if you have it)

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 garlic clove, halved crosswise

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place sun-dried tomatoes in small bowl. Cover with boiling water. Let stand 10 minutes. Drain, and chop tomatoes.

Place baguette slices on large baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes or until golden brown around edges. Remove from oven and cool.

Meanwhile, combine sun-dried tomatoes, grape tomatoes, olives, vinegar, basil, oil and salt in medium bowl and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Rub bread with garlic. Top each bread slice with 1 tablespoon of tomato mixture.