New Year Is Time for Tapas
In an effort to start the year right and stave off the January blues, my husband and I thought we'd throw a mid-winter tapas party.
"The art of tapeo is like a baroque, sybaritic game," I read in The Oxford Companion to Food. "[I]t induces states of inspiration and delight, it gives rise to witty banter on trivial topics and the interchange of snippets of juicy gossip."
Perfect. We drew up the guest list.
Tapa means "lid" in Spanish, I learned from celebrity Spanish chef Jose Andres' Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America. One story goes that tapas got their start from the practice in Spanish bars of placing something, such as a slice of ham, on top of a glass to protect a drink from flies. This may or may not be true, he adds.
From there, tapas came to refer to small dishes eaten as a prelude to dinner, traditionally accompanied by wine or dry sherry. What started out simple — a few olives, anchovies or mussels — eventually encompassed anything at all, as long as it was served on a small plate.
When tapas crossed the ocean to the United States, their form changed somewhat. Rather than appetizers, tapas became dinner. It was just the thing for this nation of grazers.
Our party was definitely in the American mode. Tapas are served in Spain from about noon to 3 p.m. and again from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., traditional American meal times. The Spanish don't usually eat dinner before 10 p.m.
We also expected to have a passel of children at our party, something you would be unlikely to find at either an upscale, late-night restaurant meal in the United States or at a Spanish tapas bar.
With invitations already in the mail, I started scouring cookbooks for recipes. We needed balance — meat, seafood, vegetables — and we needed to be able to make some dishes ahead of time so we wouldn't be working too hard once our guests arrived. And we wanted a variety of flavors and textures that all went well together. So we settled on the six recipes below, along with good bread, dried fruit, nuts and olives.
We also poured a couple of bottles of cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and a Spanish rose, in the hopes they would help with the juicy gossip and witty banter.
The hardest part of preparing for the party turned out to be cleaning the house before our guests arrived. The food was so good that some of these recipes, doubled, will become part of our regular weeknight repertoire.
Our guests were happy. One said, "I know these are tapas, but I'm not taking tapas-sized portions." Another friend, a picky eater, reported on his way out the door that he'd had four servings of the chickpea and spinach dish.
This first tapas party went so well that next time, we might make things even easier and do it as a potluck. You can't get more American than that.
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