At long last, I bring you the 50th of my 50 countries. Our much beloved friends Chris and Kelly came down from Madison for New Years Eve, and I knew that the best way to treat them right was with a big dinner. And what better party food is there than tapas? Additionally, you may remember Chris as the one who invented the 50 Country Challenge last January 1st. I didn't realize, but he hadn't gotten to partake of any of the 50 countries before December 31st! I am delighted that he was able to eat #49 and #50. It was a great cap to the challenge.
I definitely got wrapped up in choosing tapas recipes to make. When I walked away from my computer in a snack food haze, I clutched 7 recipes in my hot little hands. Trying to pare down that list to a much more manageable 5 dishes was quite difficult. Ultimately, I got rid of Albondigas Caseras (meatballs in tomato sauce) and Champinones al Ajillo (garlic mushrooms). But it was hard. I still really really want those. But for 4 people, 5 dishes (plus dessert, naturally--that's where the Pasteis de Nata came into play) was perfect.
The downside to Tapas, of course, is that you need to serve some of them fresh off the stove. That means you constantly need to ditch your guests in an effort to get more food on the table. The bonus is that almost all stovetop tapas are really fast to make if you have everything prepped before your guests show up. For example, I chopped and mixed everything for the Gambas al Ajillo before Chris and Kelly arrived. When I was ready, it took all of 4 minutes to cook the dish. Perfecto! Ultimately, these tapas proved far easier than all of my other "big" meals for this year.
Patatas Bravas (from Serious Eats)
-1 1/2 pounds waxy potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, red-skin, or fingerling potatoes
-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
-2 large Spanish onions, thinly sliced
-6 cloves garlic, chopped
-2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika (pimentón de la vera dulce)
-1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika (pimentón de la vera picante)
-1 teaspoon ground cumin
-1/4 teaspoon cayenne
-Freshly ground black pepper
-One 35-ounce can plum tomatoes
-1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
-1 cup olive oil (**I used 3/4 cup. I think that in 99% of circumstances, an entire cup of olive oil is completely unnecessary. And I was right. 3/4 cup is even a lot, but it helps to fry the potatoes to get the nice crispy crust.**)
-Sea salt, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 450.
2. Put the potatoes in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover by an inch. Add tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until just fork tender. Drain the potatoes and set aside to cool. When cool, cut the potatoes into wedges or, if using fingerling potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise.
3. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 10 minutes, or until they soften but have not colored. Add the garlic and cook gently for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the garlic is tender and aromatic. Stir in both paprikas, the cumin, and the cayenne. Season to taste with pepper.
4. Put the tomatoes and their juice in a bowl, and using your hands, crush the tomatoes slightly. Add the tomatoes, their juice, and the vinegar to the saucepan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce is heated through.
5. Let the tomato sauce cool a little and then, working in batches, puree it in a blender until smooth. As one batch is pureed, transfer it to a bowl or a container with a tight-fitting lid. Use the tomato sauce right away or refrigerate for up to 3 days.
6. In a large bowl, toss the cooled potatoes with the 1 cup of olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the potatoes and the oil in a shallow baking pan and roast for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are nicely browned on one side. Rotate the pan and turn the potatoes over. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes longer, or until browned and crisp on the other side.
7. Spoon a liberal amount of cooled tomato sauce in the center of each of 4 serving plates. Mound the potatoes on top of the sauce and garnish with sea salt.
Verdict: I could be wrong, but I think these were the crowd pleasin' favorite. The potatoes were crisp and tender (not to mention soaked in salt & peppered olive oil...*drool*) and laid on top of a flavorful tomato-paprika sauce that, inexplicably, tasted like bacon. Seriously? I am in love with this dish. Patatas Bravas is one of the winners at every Tapas bar I've visited, but this recipe very nearly trumps all the ones I've tried out and about. Serious Eats? More like Serious WINS.
Chunky White Bean Dip (modified from Whole Living)
-One 15 1/2-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
-One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
-2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
-One 8-ounce container plain fat-free yogurt
-1 tomato, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
-1 teaspoon ground cumin
-1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (or to taste)
-Juice of 1/2 a very juicy lemon
-1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
-1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1. Place half the chickpeas and half the cannelloni beans in the bowl of a food processor along with garlic and yogurt. Puree until smooth. Add remaining beans, and pulse until coarsely chopped.
2. Set aside 2 tablespoons of tomato for garnish. Transfer mixture to a bowl; stir in remaining tomato, cumin, salt, pepper, lemon juice, thyme, and parsley. Set aside.
3. When you're ready to serve, garnish with the reserved tomato. Serve to friends--real or imagined, like Clark Gable and Michael Caine here.
Verdict: I'm sure this is not a "real" (read: authentic) tapas recipe. BUT, it sounded good and was healthy. By healthy, of course, I mean "not fried in olive oil" and "not wrapped in bacon" and not "filled with cheese." Anyway, this reminded us of hummus, minus the tahini. It's pretty good and we're looking forward to buying some baby carrots tonight and eating more of it.
Pinchos Jamon con Datil y Queso aka "Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Goat Cheese" (from Tapas Bonitas)
-16 dates, seeds removed
-16 pieces soft goat cheese (roughly the shape of the inside of a date)
-16 pieces streaky bacon (cut to the size of a date)
1. Cut a date open lengthwise, remove the seed if there, and stuff the date with a piece of the goat cheese.
2. Roll a strip of the streaky bacon around the stuffed date, and fix the whole thing tight with a toothpick.
3. Store the date and bacon pinchos on a cold plate and store them in the fridge until you use them.
4. Before you fry these bacon pinchos, take them out of the fridge and allow them to get to room temperature; In this way the cheese will melt more easily without having to fry the bacon too much.
5. Fry the bacon pinchos in a fair layer of olive oil over medium heat, turning them regularly, until the cheese starts to melt. Serve while still warm.
Verdict: Now THESE are the antithesis to that white bean dip. They're stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon, and fried in olive oil. All that means (aside from a gajillion calories) is that they are WAY tasty. WAY. TASTY. Also, they're extremely easy--both the prep and cook.
Cumin-Flavored Carrot Salad (from Chef Norm)
-1/2 pound carrots, scraped, ends trimmed
-Chicken broth and water
-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
(**I only had 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Since I doubled this recipe, that was a problem. I mixed it with an additional 2 tablespoons for apple cider vinegar, which worked like a charm.**)
-1 1/2 tablespoons water
-1 large clove garlic, mashed to a paste or put through a garlic press
-1/4 teaspoon oregano
-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
-1/4 teaspoon paprika, preferably Spanish style
1. Prepare several hours in advance. Place the carrots in a saucepan with a mixture of water and chicken broth just barely to cover. Add a little salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 10 minutes (more or less depending on the thickness of the carrots), until just done but still slightly crisp. Cool and cut in 1/4-inch slices.
2. In a cup mix together the vinegar, water, garlic, oregano, cumin, paprika, and salt. Fold gently into the carrots. Marinate for several hours or overnight.
Verdict: Could you ask for an easier dish to make? This was an elegant recipe that reminded me somewhat of escabeche. The carrots were so flavorful! Kelly and I are both big on pickled/escabeche-y things, so we seriously loved this. By the way, I doubled this recipe so I could make an entire pound of carrots. That way, it nicely served 4-5 people.
Gambas al Ajillo (from Chef Norm)
-1/4 cup olive oil
-4 large cloves garlic, finely minced
-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
-1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
-2 tablespoons dry sherry
-1 teaspoon paprika
-Chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley for garnish
1. In a sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 1 minute.
2. Raise the heat to high and add the shrimp, lemon juice, sherry and paprika. Stir well, then sauté, stirring briskly, until the shrimp turn pink and curl slightly, about 3 minutes.
3. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle with parsley. Serve hot.
Verdict: This was the only thing that Greg asked that I make. Actually, it was more like I was leaning toward the meatballs and garlic mushrooms and he said, "GARLIC SHRIMP GARLIC SHRIMP MAKE THE GARLIC SHRIMP!" How can you say no? And boy, am I ever glad that I made these. They were the perfect cap to a meal of tapas. As I noted earlier, they're super easy to make and they are soooooo delicious.
Next up, Greg will announce his winners from the 50 Countries Challenge. Stay tuned...