Note: recipes can be found at end of story
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Our family recently celebrated my niece Sarah's high school graduation in Morgantown. After the early afternoon ceremonies, my brother Ben Watkins and his wife, Marsha, invited the clan to their house for a family reception. Instead of scrambling to get a full meal on the table, Ben and Marsha calmly presented an impressive array of nearly 20 dishes of nibbles and tidbits that they'd prepared the day before.
"We're having tapas," my brother explained. Tapas dining is a delightful Spanish culinary tradition in which small, bite-sized morsels are offered throughout the day. Tapas are not intended to replace a full meal, which makes tapas an ideal selection for a mid-afternoon gathering.
In preparation, Ben and Marsha pored over a copy of "The Tapas Cookbook," which they'd picked up in a bargain book bin, just waiting for the right opportunity to use the recipes. Tapas selections are as simple as a dish of almonds and olives to slightly more complicated stuffed sweet peppers, grilled kabobs, sauced sausages and salads served on toasts or bread.
In Spanish, "tapas" means "lids," a reference to the original tapas, which were slices of bread placed over glasses of wine served by innkeepers hundreds of years ago. The bread kept bugs out and dust from falling into the glasses. Later, slices of ham and cheese were added to the bread, beginning the tapas custom.
Today, the savory bites are relatively simple combinations of well-matched ingredients, such as bland mushrooms cooked in a piquant red chile sauce, shrimp and lime, spicy chorizo sausage and sweet melon or roasted potatoes with blue cheese. When you're making 20 varieties of tapas, however, your ingredient list is lengthy. Nosy sister that I am, I glanced at their list, which included mushrooms, lemons, garlic, lemons, limes, chorizo, chicken, salmon, shrimp, roasted red peppers, olives, goat cheese and baguettes.
"We used many of the same ingredients in different dishes," Marsha explained. They had tangy Lime-drizzled Shrimp and spicy Sizzling Chile Shrimp. Chicken appeared in Sautéed Chicken with Crispy Garlic Slices and in Chicken Salad with Raisins and Pine Nuts. Roasted red bell peppers wrapped around both tuna and goat cheese/olive fillings. Artichokes headlined both Artichoke Hearts and Asparagus Salad and Melon, Chorizo and Artichoke Salad.
Ben planned an authentic, by-the-cookbook Spanish tapas feast, while Marsha went a bit off menu, adding a few of her own creations. She took advantage of ready-made products to cut back on preparation time. She stuffed mushroom caps with prepared crab cakes, at the suggestion of their son Ross. Her wild-mushroom stuffed raviolis in a sauce of sautéed, finely chopped mushrooms, red peppers and garlic mixed with prepared pesto and topped with asiago cheese didn't last long.
Tapas may not be intended as a meal, but we certainly made one of it, filling our small plates with a bit of everything, then going back for favorites or those missed on the first round.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
Chorizo in Red Wine
This dish is best if prepared the day before it is served.
7 ounces chorizo sausage
3/4 cup Spanish red wine
2 tablespoons brandy, optional
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
PRICK the chorizo in 3 or 4 places with a toothpick.
PLACE chorizo and wine in a large sauce pan. Bring wine to boil, reduce heat and simmer gently, covered for 15 to 20 minutes.
TRANSFER chorizo and wine to covered bowl. Refrigerate at least 8 hours.
REMOVE chorizo from bowl and reserve wine marinade. Remove the outer casing from the chorizo and cut into 1/4-inch slices.
PLACE slices in heavy-bottomed skillet or flame-proof serving dish.
IF USING brandy, pour it into a small saucepan and heat gently. Pour warm brandy over chorizo slices, and set aflame.
WHEN flames die down, shake pan gently and add reserved wine. Cook over high heat until almost all wine evaporates.
SERVE chorizo piping hot, sprinkled with parsley to garnish, with chunks of slices of bread.
Chicken Salad with Raisins and Pine Nuts
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/8 cup sugar
1 bay leaf
Rind of one lemon
1 cup raisins
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
COMBINE vinegar, sugar, bay leaf and lemon rind in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in raisins. Cool
SLICE chicken breasts into very thin slices. Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add chicken and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned
ADD the garlic and pine nuts. Cook, while stirring continuously and shaking the skillet for 1 minute or until the pine nuts are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
POUR cooled dressing into a large bowl, discarding the bay leaf and lemon rind. Add 1/3 cup olive oil and whisk together. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken mixture and parsley and toss together.
TURN the salad into a serving dish and serve warm; or, cover and chill for two hours and serve cold.
12 raw jumbo shrimp, beheaded and de-veined
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Splash of sherry
4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper
GRATE the rind and squeeze the juice from two limes. Cut the remaining two limes into wedges and set aside.
RINSE shrimp and pat dry.
HEAT oil in heavy skillet. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add shrimp and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally, or until they turn pink.