Every time I step into the Blanton’s stunning exhibition of prints by Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, all I can think about are tapas and ice-cold cerveza Moritz. As one of the museum’s educators, I feel a little guilty admitting this, but hey, I have ancestors from San Sebastian and I’m sure it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.
The origin story of tapas is a little murky. Depending on your sources it either began in the 13th century with the Spanish King Alfonso X or with field workers. (Alfonso had a habit of snacking between meals.) More people seem to agree that tapas started with the field laborers, who would cover their jugs of wine with pieces of bread and jamon. The hours between meals were long and this combination of drink and food was meant to hold the workers over. Whoever started the custom, Spaniards love snacking. (Just as they have a tradition of serving tapas as a late afternoon snack, there is a mid-morning snack custom called “onces.”)
The word tapa comes from the verb “tapar” which translates into English as “to cover.” And that’s what they do—cover folks who want a little something as they have a drink after work, before dinner. In Spain, this is especially helpful, since dinner is typically served around nine or ten at night. Stateside, tapas often cover for dinner entirely. Here in Austin, we have three go-to spots for straightforward Spanish tapas: Barlata, Bullfight, and Malaga. (Barlata has a terrific Fiduea Negre, BTW.) But instead of telling you where to go for sangria, this post is going to save you money by sharing a few favorite tapas recipes that you can enjoy at home.
Like Austin, summer in Spain can be scorching hot. To cool down in the late afternoon, Catalonians up and down the Costa Brava will indulge in their version of a shandy: a combination of a pilsner and super-tart lemonade or straight lemon juice. I’ve never had this drink in Spain without also being served anchovy-stuffed olives and potato chips. I don’t know if that’s a thing or just my luck, but I completely back the combo. You can find jars of these olives at Central Market or Whole Foods and Zapp’s brand potato chips are a salty approximate for Spanish papitas.
Reminiscing about sitting on the Mediterranean with a lemony beer and aceitunas de anchoa makes my mind wander back to Goya’s Still Life with Golden Bream. The freshly caught fish, glassy eyes blankly staring at the viewer, have been compared to the victims of the Spanish civil war. Unfortunately for Goya, I’m too distracted by food to contemplate the disasters of war (apologies to our curator). In this moment all I can think of are the little fisherman’s boats that line up along Calella de Palafrugell to bring in the daily catch. (Boquerones fritos anyone?)
If you have over-ripe tomatoes this summer and crusty white bread, another great tapa is pan con tomate. It’s simple and fun to make with friends—perfect for a party (just put out the fixin’s so everyone can help themselves). A lot of restaurants in Spain will grill their toast, which gives it great dimension and is totally worth trying. Here’s the recipe:
Pan con tomate, manechgo, y jamon serrano
Toast with Tomato, Manchego, and Serrano Ham
Lightly toast or grill some thick slices of crusty white bread.
On each slice rub these things in this order: ½ clove garlic, ½ ripe tomato.
Then, on each slice, sprinkle some Spanish olive oil and coarse sea salt.
Garnish with a thin slice of manchego cheese and jamon Serrano.
Goya spent most of his life in Madrid, where hot tapas hold court. Don’t kick a girl out of Texas for saying this, but meat’s not my thing. So, this post will finish with a recipe for setas en jerez that even King Ferdinand would like. Buen provecho!
Setas en jerez
Mushrooms in Sherry
Get a really big skillet super hot and add about a tablespoon each butter and Spanish olive oil.
Add a basket of white button mushrooms (cut in halves or fourths), and cook until they are brown and crispy, add salt to taste.
Reduce heat, add about 3 cloves minced garlic and ¼ cup Almontillado sherry.
Once sherry cooks down, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.
Andrea Saenz Williams manages the Blanton’s school and teacher programs. Get in touch or ask her for other tapas recipes on twitter: @andreasaenzwill