Friday, January 28, 2011


Are you planning your super bowl party yet? Same here, I have been thinking hard what to prepare. Chicken wings, chili, chips and dip, Stuffed peppers, and BBQ ribs. Those are just a few staples that we have had in the past. This year however, I’m planning something a little different. Tapas! Of course I’ll do a few staples, but my main theme will be Tapas. I will admit for the longest time, for some odd reason I thought Tapas were like pita bread stuffed with goodies, kind of like a vegetarian version of a gyro. I have no explanation why I thought this.

A little background via Wikipedia: Tapas (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtapas] is the name of a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, in Spanish cuisine. They may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or warm (such as chopitos, which are battered, fried baby squid). In select bars in Spain, as well as some parts of North America and the United Kingdom, tapas has evolved into an entire, and sometimes sophisticated, cuisine. In Spain, patrons of tapas can order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal. In some Central American countries such snacks are known as bocas. The serving of tapas is designed to encourage conversation because people are not so focused upon eating an entire meal that is set before them. Also, in some countries it is customary for diners to stand and move about while eating tapas.

I can’t think of anything more appropriate for a Super Bowl Party. Even though my poor wife is brooding over the fact that her beloved Chicago Bears didn’t make it this year, she still is a good sport and looking forward to our party with friends. I will be having my own Super Bowl of tapas in the kitchen along with other staples I’ve made in the past like, New Zealand Green Mussels in a Butter and Bourbon sauce, one of my personal favorites.

I have prepared Tapas a few dozen times for some private caters and a few big events. Thought they require a lot of forethought and preparation, they are fun to make and even more fun to eat. I often incorporate different ethnic themes into the Tapas depending on the people I’m cooking for. Most often the traditional Tapas are chosen because many people have not tried them. These are a few of the choice that people enjoyed and tend to be popular: Chickpeas and Spinach, Clams in Sherry Sauce, Octopus & Paprika, Meatballs in Almond Sauce, Fried Cheese, Quail and Onions, Dried Cod & potatoes, Sole with Raisins & Pine Nuts and Grilled Pork. I picked these because I’m most familiar with them.

You may be thinking that this seems like more than you can handle, but I assure you, once you get started you will be pleasantly surprised how easy they are to prepare. The intimidation factor will be all the ingredients you will have to shop for, but I’ve never met a person who didn’t enjoy shopping to some degree.

Chickpeas, Bacon and Spinach Tapas

3 slices thick-cut bacon, or pancetta
Olive oil
15-ounce can chick peas, drained and rinsed
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon (smoked Spanish paprika) or regular paprika if not available
8 ounces spinach
1-2 garlic cloves, minced

Render bacon for about a minute, to get rid of excess fat. Then chop and sauté over medium heat in a heavy skillet until bacon begins to brown. Add chick peas, pepper flakes, and a couple tablespoons oil, and sauté until chick peas begin to brown, (about 4 minutes). If dish seems dry, drizzle a little more oil. Add spinach, paprika, and garlic and sauté until spinach sweats down, 1-2 minutes.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Octopus & Paprika Tapas

1-2 pounds octopus
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 chopped garlic cloves
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 lemons

Braise your octopus, meanwhile, put the salt, pepper, paprika and garlic in a mortar and pound it until it is a paste. Slowly add the olive oil, stirring and mashing all the while. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you could use a food processor, but the texture will be different.

When the octopus is tender and still warm, cut into chunks, put into a large bowl and toss with the sauce. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into the bowl and toss to combine.

Serve warm or at room temperature with slices of lemon.

Meatballs in Almond Sauce Tapas

3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup dry sherry
13 cloves garlic, peeled
3/4 lb. ground beef
3/4 lb. ground pork
3/4 lb. ground veal
2 eggs
5 tablespoon minced parsley
2 1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 c. slivered blanched almonds
1 14 1/2 oz. can beef broth
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 bay leaf
2 scallions, chopped


Soak the bread crumbs in 1/4 cup of the white wine. Finely chop 3 cloves of garlic and combine with the bread crumbs, meat, eggs, 3 tablespoon of parsley and the salt and pepper. Form into ping-pong sized balls.

Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and cook through in a hot (ideally convection) 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a 14" paella pan, sauté the onion and carrots in the olive oil until soft. Stir in the remaining white wine, the sherry and the other 10 cloves of garlic thinly sliced. Boil until most of the liquid has evaporated.

In a food processor grind the almonds as finely as possible. With the blade running, pour in the beef broth in a thin stream. When well mixed, pour into the paella pan, bring to a boil and add the remaining parsley, peas, bay leaf, scallions and more salt and pepper as needed. Slip in the meatballs, gently mixing them around so they are coated with the sauce. Lower the oven to 300 degrees, cover the pan with foil and bake for 45 minutes.

Serve hot.

Grilled Pork Loin, Pancetta and Mushroom Tapas

Bamboo skewers (12)
4 slices (1/2-inch thick) boneless pork loin
1 slice of pancetta
4 whole small white mushrooms
4 slices rustic baguette

Soak the bamboo skewers for approximately 30 minutes in water, so that when placed on grill they do not burn.
Cut the slice of pancetta into quarters.
Rinse the mushrooms thoroughly.
Lightly salt both sides of each pork loin. Slide each onto the bamboo skewers. Carefully slide on the quarter slice of pancetta and the whole mushroom.
Place skewers over a medium hot grill and cook the loin for approximately 5 minutes on each side, until cooked.
Remove the skewers from the grill and place on top of bread slices. Serve hot.

I hope one of these might inspire you and possibly show up on your super bowl table. I do like the fact that they are meant as appetizers but can totally be transformed into an entree. Enjoy your super bowl and drive safe.


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