Spanish Tapas

Summer in Spain by Mary Ferguson

When I traveled to Spain in the mid 90s, when sleep didn’t matter, I could handle a copa di vino or three, I was pre-smoke-free, pre-one-piece-bathing-suit and pre-husband: I had the time of my life! All I did was eat, drink and (I’m ashamed to say) smoked for 10 days. It was wonderful. Among many highlights, a few of which I’ve conveniently forgotten or chosen to be foggy on the details, the food – oh the food! I will never forget! When a customer asks why something tastes different here at home, I always tell them it’s because the memory of how incredibly good that Jamón Serrano or tortilla española tasted is due in large part to the places they were and the people they were with: romance of the place. Those special moments in life make everything seem to smell and taste so much better, so much more vivid!

Cool in Catalonia


Even though I never made it to El Bulli, I had an incredible picnic on the coast. One of those extremely vivid memories (I can almost taste it now) was my first taste of “pa amb tomaquet.” It is said, “In Catalunya, it’s the first thing you taste after the baby bottle.” The ultimate simple country food of Catalan is good bread, thinly sliced and soaked in tomato, drizzled with lots of fruity olive oil and sprinkled with salt. It is commonly served for lunch or a light dinner.  Now that tomato season is here, this is a perfect quick summer tapa. Marimar Torres is a fabulous Spanish cookbook author and head of the world famous winemaking family.

Bread with Tomato

8 large 1/3 inch thick slices of peasant bread

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half lengthwise

2 large ripe tomatoes, cut in half

2 tbsp good quality Spanish olive oil

Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

 Toast or grill the bread on both sides. Rub the garlic, cut side down, on the warm bread. Cup a tomato half in your palm and rub 2 piece of bread with it – squeezing so that not only the juice and seeds ooze into the bread but also some of the pulp. Only the skin should be left in your hand. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.

 Enjoy while still warm. If you want to spice things up, you could top these tapas with boquerones, sardines, chorizo or Jamón.

Artazuri Garnacha Rosado 2011 – Navarra $10.97

  Rioja Reds

Sitting next to Telmo Rodriguez of Remelluri, I almost swooned. It might have been because of the free flowing Rioja, the spectacular meal prepared by the long time family cook or because of Telmo’s “gorgeousness.” Who knows? What I do know is what we had for dinner that night! Fat stalks of white asparagus, piquillo peppers stuffed with salt cod, Jamón Iberico and incredible baby lamb chops grilled over grape vine cuttings. After years of trial and error, I’ve finally managed to recreate this amazing experience as closely as possible – haven’t quite found a substitute for Sr. Remelluri just yet.

Grape Vine Grilled Lamb Chops

2 racks baby lamb chops, cleaned and cut into individual lollipops – no need to French!

4 tbsp olive oil

4 tbsp Sherry vinegar

2 tbsp honey

½ cup Rioja red wine

2 tsp smoked paprika (sweet)

3 cloves garlic, microplaned or minced

Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Dried grape vines for smoking

Marinate lamb for 4-6 hours. Remove from refrigerator before cooking and allow to come to room temperature. Bring a charcoal grill up to high heat, just before placing the lamb chops on the grill, toss on some dried grape vines (or other fruit wood to your taste) for extra smoky flavor. Cook lamb to medium-rare and serve piled high on large white platters – eat like potato chips sitting next to someone you deem “gorgeous.”

 Casa Primicia Tempranillo 2008 – Rioja $18.97

Copas en Jerez

Sleep didn’t matter in Jerez. After a week of absorbing everything Spanish, gazing at countless breathtaking sights (and people) and enjoying mind blowing meals – I was still hungry for more – and I ate! There would be plenty of time to sleep on the plane on the way home. Mariscos, pulpo, boquerones, oh my! Being less than 20 miles from the coast, the seafood was as fresh as can be – unlike any I had ever tasted. The flavors of garlic, saffron and sherry in a paella – que rico!

Another beautiful and hugely popular tapa is easy to make at home. With ingredients that are readily available in the States, this is a modern recipe that combines the slight sweetness of braised onion with salty Jamón and the oil-cured tuna. A touch of Sherry vinegar adds the true flavor of Spain.

Tuna Toasts


1 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced

6 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp sugar

6 tbsp dry white wine

4-8 slices crusty bread

1 can Ortiz Tuna in oil

4-8 thin slices Jamón Serrano

Sea Salt

Sherry Vinegar

Cook onions over low heat in a covered pan for 1 hour with the oil and sugar. Add the wine and cook uncovered for almost another hour until the onions begin to caramelize. This can be done a day ahead.

Toast the slices of bread and spread with a layer of the hot caramelized onions. Cover with a slice on the Jamón and add 2 strips of tuna. Sprinkle with a few grains of sea salt and a few drops of Sherry vinegar. The toast and the onions should be warm so the fat on the ham melts slightly.

Tio Pepe Extra Dry Palomino Sherry – Jerez $20.95 

After all these years, some memories have faded away, some have been locked in the vault and some I reach for on a regular basis, mostly when I’m in the kitchen. These dishes, I may not have known then but I know now, are the classics. Recipes like these have been passed down through generations using simple, local ingredients – always delicious and unforgettable…like that matador in Ronda…

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