For easy holiday entertaining, all you have to do is look to Spain where tapas — little bites, with big flavor — are practically a national religion.
The tradition of tapas — which means to cover — can be traced to 19th-century Andalusia, Spain’s primary sherry producing region, explains Karen Squires, the manager at Santa Fe, New Mexico’s The Spanish Table. Restaurant owners and bartenders would place a slice of cheese or piece of jamon (cured ham) on top of a glass to protect it from flies and dust,” she said. Soon small bites and sips became a national pastime.
“In Spain, you don’t have dinner until about 10 p.m.,” Squires said. “In the evening, people go from bar to bar enjoying a glass of sherry and nibbling on tapas. It’s a social event, and each bar or restaurant usually has a specialty for which they are known,” said Squires, listing examples such as crispy fried croquetas, skewered bites, or even simple flavors like marinated carrots or roasted peppers.
The tradition of tapas can be just as simple to draw upon for at-home holiday entertaining, Squires told members of the Association of Food Journalists, who recently visited the specialty food store as part of its annual conference.
“Just make one or two of your favorite appetizers, then pull the rest off the shelf,” she said. Ingredients from bottles, boxes and cans offer flavors in line with the easy-going feel of a tapas bar. Here are a few of Squires’ flavor-filled suggestions:
1. Chilled olives » Squires suggests Manzanilla olives stuffed with garlic or lemons, which are a favorite in Spain, although just about any bottle of olives will work for a party. Olives taste best if they are chilled before serving.
2. Wrapped dates » Buy pre-sliced prosciutto or another dry cured ham, and wrap around pitted dates. Secure with a toothpick, and serve at room temperature.
3. Chorizo lollipops » Cut cooked chorizo into bite-size pieces. Spear with toothpicks and place in a serving dish. Meanwhile, combine 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar and a pinch or saffron in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. When sugar is dissolved and mixture is fairly thick, remove from heat and pour over chorizo in the serving dish.
4. Stuffed piquillo peppers » These slightly sweet, scarlet-colored peppers are served all over Spain, and are a natural for stuffing with meat, seafood or soft cheeses. Squires made a simple filling by mixing one diced Roma tomato with 1 jar of chopped artichoke hearts and 1/3 cup aioli. Piquillo peppers, which are roasted and packed flat in cans and jars, can be found in Italian or Spanish specialty markets.
5. Hummus » This mashed chickpea dip has been a favorite for centuries, and several pre-made brands are available in Utah stores,including the locally made Happy Monkey Hummus. Buy the original flavor and sprinkle it with smoked paprika, or buy one of the flavored offerings such as roasted garlic and tomato or Margarita with peppers, cilantro lime and tequila. Serve this dip with warm pita bread.
6. Marcona almonds » This large, wide, flat almond is sometimes called the “queen of almonds.” It’s grown in the Catalonia region of Spain and is known for its soft crunch and rich sweet flavor. To give these nuts added flavor, drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil and toss with paprika, Squires suggests.
7. Skewered bites » Impaling small bites on a stick is one of the easiest and most beloved kind of tapas. They’re called banderillas, after the colorful darts used in bullfighting. Experiment with ingredients such as a quartered artichoke heart, a cube of cheese and a cherry tomato; salami, pickled onions and red bell pepper; or the classic Gilda, which is made with Manzanilla olives, guindilla chiles, anchovies and red peppers.
8. Marinated vegetables » Specialty stores have a variety of these bottled offerings, from onions and carrots to asparagus and peppers. Making your own is simple, too.
9. Cheese » The most popular Spanish cheese is Manchego, but this European country creates some outstanding cheeses from buttery Mahon to aged Garrotxa.
10. Bruschetta » Even outside of fresh tomato season, you can serve these toasted baguettes by employing a well-drained can of diced tomatoes.
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