Saturday, 23 October 2010

Tapas Tea

We love tapas in this house. If we go to Spain, we virtually live on it - either hopping from bar to bar, or sitting down and trying all manner of stuff in one place. Over time, we have found particular favourite dishes but have also had some fabulously different ones - like the spinach, bacon and chickpeas we ate sat in Plaça del Pi in Barcelona one sunny day, a dish that sticks in my mind to this day. And there is the awful, like the Russian salad we had in Poble Espanyol, also in Barcelona, which was so bad, it was funny. Never believe anyone that tells you that you can be served bad food is the UK. You can get it anywhere.

At home, we go to the usual chains if we want a tapas fix but occasionally, we like to have tapas for tea on a Saturday. This is a special treat for all of us and is usually timed to coincide with some Spanish football on the telly as we are big fans and have been to matches in 5 different grounds in Spain. Tonight has been one such time. There was a triple header of matches on and as it's holiday time, the children stayed up a little late. So, we had tapas for tea in the living room, watching the Barcelona game.

Tapas is great to cook as the dishes are small, so simple to cook and quick to prepare. Some don't require "cooking" at all - it's a case of putting some lovely ingredients on a plate. This morning, Monkey and Missy Woo came out with me to Booths to buy some of them. We bought Manchego cheese, some jamòn (ham), and some chorizo sausage (see below). The cheese is just cut into thin slices and put on a plate with some slices of tomato. Same with the jamòn. I drizzle some nice olive oil on top if I'm feeling fancy. (I wasn't today, in case you're wondering).

The rest of the menu was all fairly simple. We had:

Ensalada rusa - Russian salad. This requires bit of cooking in advance but not much. I peel and dice a medium size potato and place in boiling water in a pan with about 400g frozen mixed veg (the sort where the veg are quite small) and cook according to the packet instructions. At the same time, I hard-boil a couple of eggs, cool and shell them. Once the veg is cooked, I pour into a bowl and allow to cool. I add a tin of tuna which I've flaked to the bowl, with chopped hard-boiled egg. Then, I add in enough mayonnaise (I use low fat) to cover everything and stir together. Then I place in the fridge as it's best nicely cold. In Spain, they always put mini breadsticks in the top. I only do that if I have some in. I actually made double today as it keeps well in the fridge.

Gambas al ajillo - garlic prawns. Just some prawns fried in olive oil until they turn pink with some garlic added to the oil. Careful not to burn the garlic or it tastes bitter.

Chorizo al vino - chorizo in red wine. I slice the chorizo sausage and cook in a hot pan to render the fat, and let them sizzle for a while, turning occasionally. Once they are looking "cooked", I add some red wine to the pan and let it reduce a bit.

Meatballs - I cheat for this! I always have catering packs of Ikea style Swedish meatballs in the freezer, so I just use those and microwave them at the last minute. Proper albondigas are a mixture of minced meat and spices, and they can either be simply fried or cooked in a tomatoey sauce. I prefer my way just to keep it quick and simple.

Spanish omelette - tortilla española. This is the most involved dish of all but worth it as it is fantastic hot and cold. I have tried many recipes but this seems most successful. I peel, halve and slice 2-3 medium onions and peel and thinly slice about 300g potatoes, then heat about 2 tbsp olive oil in a medium deep frying pan until it's smoking. I add the potatoes and onions then immediately turn the heat down, stirring to coat everything in the oil. These are then cooked, covered for about 25 - 30 mins - the idea is to cook them slowly without browning but I rarely manage that - shaking the pan occasionally and turning everything over at least once. Whilst they are cooking, I crack 5-6 eggs in a bowl and beat together, then season with pepper. Once the potatoes and onions are cooked, I add them and mix with the eggs. The pan gets wiped out, put back on a medium heat and more oil added. Once the oil is heated, everything is tipped back into the pan and the heat turned back down. I leave it to cook for about 20 mins on the lowest of heats, occasionally running around the edge with a fish slice, until most of the egg on top has set. At this stage, I put the grill on high and put the whole pan under it. (If you're clever, you can slide the tortilla out of the pan onto a plate and then flip it back into the pan.) It only needs a couple of mins under a grill before it's browned and ready. The Spanish love it in sandwiches - if you go a La Liga match of an evening, the sound of foil being unwrapped from sandwiches at half time is deafening, particularly if you go to places like the San Mamés in Bilbao or the Anoeta in San Sebastián.

And that's it! None of it terribly complicated, most of it pretty quick to make, but a bit heavy on the washing up - thank goodness for dishwashers! I do a lot of wiping out and reusing of pans, plus there is a last minute scramble with the hot things, not unlike finishing off a roast dinner and trying to get everything ready at the same time. There are more complicated recipes but we don't find we need anything fancy. The only other thing I often make is patatas bravas - for which I make jacket wedges in the oven and a spicy sauce on top. I accidentally discovered that mixing barbeque sauce with mayonnaise gives the closest result to what you can get in most parts of Spain.

Before I go, handy hint for you if you do tapas at home. Write a list of what you're making, because it's really easy to forget something in the last few minutes. Many's the time I've found something in the fridge uneaten afterwards. Doh!
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