By Herb Gardener.
Super Bowl? Piffle. In my home, the athletic contest that draws the faithful to the flatscreen and snack trough (and drives Flora to the mall) is the World Cup final.
Until a few weeks ago, Spain claimed the top spot in world rankings, and the Furia Roja remains a favorite to win the planet’s greatest sporting event on Sunday, July 11. Preparing and serving Spanish tapas is a winning strategy for satisfying fans grazing from kick-off through the trophy ceremony.
This year my game plan starts with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tapas, a formulaic introduction that nonetheless delivers solid recipes and convincing flavors.
Author Jeanette Hurt is a veteran food writer who lived in Madrid and has championed convivial tapas traditions stateside. She begins at the beginning — tapas origins.
Despite more colorful legends involving a 13th century Castilian king, Hurt traces tapas, a plural noun meaning covers or lids, to 19th century bartenders who topped glasses of wine with saucers on which were arranged bites of bread, cheese, ham and the like. Gregarious and free-spirited, Spanish people developed a culture around these small plates of olives, ham, eggs, seafood and other delicacies savored with friends and family over wine or sherry and served at neighborhood bars. Different bars became known for their signature tapas and it didn’t take long for combinations of tasty bites and recipes to spread throughout the nation and beyond, finally reaching American just as the “small plates” fad (which included sushi from Japan) hit our culinary shores.
Chapters covering cold and hot tapas, sweets and beverages, come with the usual trappings of other titles in the Idiot’s series, including a variety of uneven tips or comments in margin balloons. Several dishes in an
international tapas chapter are superfluous. Only the complete idiot or supremely confident would attempt Asian duck with lapsong souchong tea sauce. I admire the simple takes on tapas.
On the plus side, however, are delicious recipes in the book featuring authentic Spanish ingredients like sherry vinegar, smoked paprika, piquillo peppers, and Manchego cheese. A passage on pairing wine with tapas offers straightforward advice pitched perfectly to newbies. Hurt also shares menu and party planning ideas to complete your fiesta.
The Guide scores as an entry into the pleasures of tapas. Here is a recipe that expresses Hurt’s philosophy of applying quality ingredients to simple preparations. If you’re invited to a World Cup party pair this flavorful topping with a fresh, skinny baguette and a bottle of Spanish Tempranillo wine and you’ll be a welcome guest regardless of your team colors.
4 ounces pitted Kalamata or other black olives
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar
1 teaspoon capers
Place all ingredients in a food processor fitted with standard chopping blade. Process two to three minutes or until finely minced. Serve with crackers or crusty bread. Chopped tomatoes, basil, parsley or preserved lemons can also be added for variety.
(The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tapas by Jeanette Hurt. New York: Alpha/Penguin, 2008. $14.95).