The idea of tapas, skewered pintxos (pronounced peen-chos) and the oh-so-appealing practice of late night sips and small plates on the patio is tailor-made for relaxed entertaining.
From the party host perspective, it can be a delightful level of commitment – or rather, noncommitment – as well. Chilled wine, fizzy cocktails, platters of cured meats, cheeses and olives, and you’re halfway there. Sauté a batch of padrón peppers – the occasionally hot one in a glistening sea of sweet gives the dish a dash of chili pepper roulette.
Make albondigas, perhaps, in a wine sauce, a la San Francisco chef Joyce Goldstein, whose recipe tastes even better when made the night before. And don’t forget the jamón, the incredible prosciutto-like ham that may well be Spain’s national obsession.
Then pass a tray of brightly hued, Basque-inspired pintxos – skewered pickled vegetables and anchovies, for example, or the fresh baby beets, cucumbers and feta cheese combination favored by Gerald Hirigoyen, whose small plates fare dazzles at his Basque restaurant, Piperade, and in a cookbook, “Pintxos” (Ten Speed Press, $24.99, 202 pages) devoted to that cuisine.
Pintxos make a great nosh to pair with that other Spanish obsession, the gintonic – one word is correct in this case – served in balloon-shaped wine glasses or Riedel-type stemless goblets. Or pour sangria, a Spanish rosé, an albariño, a cider or cava.
Just don’t forget the ham. It’s not a true Spanish spread without cured meats.
Every great tapas spread includes a few easy-to-assemble dishes, an assortment of cured meats, olives, nuts and other simple items you can find at well-stocked delicatessens and specialty shops, or online at www.spanishtable.com or www.tienda.com. Among the easy must-haves:
Bowls of olives – Plus a dish for the pits
Marcona almonds – Served plain or dusted with Maldon or another flake salt and chopped fresh rosemary
Padrón peppers – Fried in olive oil over high heat, then served hot, sprinkled with salt
Cured meats – Thinly sliced Spanish chorizo and jamon serrano or, if you’re feeling flush, the very expensive and very fine jamón ibérico
Cheeses – Manchego and other Spanish cheeses, served with fresh figs, a fruit conserve or membrillo, a quince paste. Want to be clever? Run small skewers through squares of manchego, membrillo and jamón serrano to make easy pintxos.
Recipe from Jackie Burrell.
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
4 cups fruity red wine, such as a pinot noir
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
Bing cherries, sliced oranges and Meyer lemons
Soda water, optional
In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves. Let simmer 1 to 2 minutes to form a simple syrup. Let cool.
In a pitcher, combine the wine, brandy, orange juice and some of the fruit. Add half the simple syrup, taste and add more, as needed. Refrigerate at least an hour, or as long as overnight.
Serve over ice, with a splash of soda water. Garnish with fresh cherries and orange and Meyer lemon slices.
This classic Basque pintxo calls for specific pickled vegetables, but you can use Italian pepperoncini, for example, instead of guindillas, small Basque pickled peppers.
6 medium cured guindillas
12 large green Spanish olives, cured, marinated
6 cured cornichons
6 cured cebollitas (cocktail onions)
6 cured anchovy fillets
Arrange 1 guindilla, 2 olives, 1 cornichon, 1 cebollita and 1 anchovy on each wooden skewer.
Serve on baguette slices or, if you want the pintxos to stand up, skewer the cebollitas last for stability.
Baby beets, cucumbers and feta pintxos
Recipe from Gerald Hirigoyen, “Pintxos” (Ten Speed Press, $24.99, 202 pages)
To make a vinegar reduction, simply simmer the moscatel vinegar until reduced by half. Sherry vinegar can be substituted for the moscatel vinegar.
8 baby beets, 1 to 11/2 inches in diameter
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
8 squares feta cheese, cut 3/4-inch square and 1/2-inch thick
8 pitted Kalamata olives
8 squares peeled English cucumber, cut 3/4-inch square and 1/2-inch thick
Extra-virgin olive oil and moscatel vinegar reduction, for drizzling
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim the stems of the unpeeled beets, leaving 1/2 inch intact. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place them in a baking pan with 1/4 cup water. Roast for 30 minutes, or until just tender when pierced with a knife. Transfer to a bowl of cold water. When they are cool enough to handle, top and tail them and slip off the skins.
Thread each of 8 skewers with a beet, a feta square, an olive and a cucumber square. Arrange on a small platter. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar reduction. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Albondigas with wine sauce
Recipe from Joyce Goldstein’s “Tapas: Sensational Small Plates from Spain” (Chronicle, $22.95, 168 pages)
1/4 cup onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
3 tablespoons fresh, flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 slices country bread, crusts removed, soaked in water, squeezed dry
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped, blanched almonds
2 tablespoons fresh, flat-leaf parsley, minced
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
A few saffron threads, warmed and crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup dry white wine, dry fino or amontillado sherry
2/3 cup chicken broth
Meatballs: Sauté the onion and garlic in a little olive oil, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes.
Combine ground meats, parsley, egg, softened bread, spices, salt, pepper and onion mixture. Mix well. Fry a nugget of the mixture, taste and adjust seasoning.
Shape mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Spread flour in a shallow bowl. Roll meatballs in flour, coating evenly and shaking off the excess.
In a large frying pan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sear meatballs, turning as needed, until golden brown on all sides, about 5 minutes.
For the wine sauce: Combine the garlic, almonds, parsley, paprika, saffron, a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper in a food processor; process until finely ground into a “picada.”
In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened.
Add wine and broth; bring to a simmer. Add meatballs, reduce heat, cover and simmer until cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes more.
Add the picada and cook a few minutes more.