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Need cheering up? Have a tapas party

Published: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(MCT News Service)
In this mini meatballs recipe, the dried chili pepper spikes the flavor enough to make them special.
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Ensalada Mediterranean is easy to prepare. The salad is studded with dried apricots and figs, which give the dish its flavor, while adding to its stunning presentation.

I’d had enough of the snow and freezing temperatures. And I was bored. So, it was time to throw a party – a tapas party.

Tapas, popular throughout Spain, are the Spanish version of appetizers. They can range from small plates as simple as cubed cheese, ham and olives to more elaborate dishes.

Here are three tapas recipes you can make at home.

I was leafing through the cookbook “Spain” by Jeff Koehler when I spotted a beautiful photo of Empanada De Lomo. The photo alone made me want to try this recipe. The recipe takes time (about 4 hours) because the dough has to rise and there is plenty of slicing and frying. I made a few changes to the recipe. Instead of hand kneading the dough, I used my stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. And the directions for placing the dough in the pan seemed a little confusing, so I formed the dough my way. But in the end it was time well spent.

Let’s say this about the second recipe, Ensalada Mediterranean – it is easy to prepare. The salad is studded with dried apricots and figs, which give the dish its flavor, while adding to its stunning presentation.

The final recipe is Mini Meatballs. The dried chili pepper spikes the flavor enough to make these meatballs special. The recipe calls for two fresh tomatoes but fresh tomatoes this time of year don’t have enough flavor so I used one 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes. I will make this recipe again in the summer when tomatoes are at their best.

Empanada De Lomo

(Empanada with Marinated Pork and Roasted Red Pepper)

Serves 6 to 8 depending on portion size

Ingredients:

4 cloves garlic, peeled

8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the bowl

2 tablespoons dry white wine

1 1/2 teaspoons Spanish pimenton dulce (sweet paprika)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt, to taste

1 bay leaf

Pork fillets (12 ounces total), thinly cut into 1/3-inch-thick strips

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface and pan

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons packed fresh baker’s yeast or 2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1/2 cup whole milk, warmed (105 to 115 degrees)

2 eggs, whisked

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, halved crosswise and sliced into thick lengthwise strips

Butter for greasing pan

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, blend garlic, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, wine, 1 teaspoon of the paprika and the oregano. Add salt (to taste), bay leaf and pork. Turn over to coat. Cover and marinate at least 2 hours.

2. Meanwhile, put the flour in a large bowl; sprinkle in the remaining paprika and the 1 teaspoon salt, blend with your fingers; make a well in the middle. Dissolve yeast in the milk; pour the yeast mixture into the well along with one egg. Begin working flour into a ball while adding 2 tablespoons olive oil. (Add a touch more milk if needed.) Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work space and knead by hand about 10 minutes, until supple, elastic and slightly tacky. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap, and let rise about 1 hour, or until about doubled in size.

3. In a large skillet or saute pan, heat remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, add onions, and cook until they begin to soften and turn pale, about 5 minutes, add the bell pepper and cook until both are tender, about 25 minutes. Place a lid over the pan during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Transfer to a bowl.

4. Preheat a heavy skillet over high heat. Discard garlic and bay leaf from the marinade. Place the pork evenly in the skillet (you may have to do this in batches, don’t crowd the pan), quickly brown the pork in its marinade, 1 to 2 minutes. Place the pork in the bowl with the onions and bell peppers and blend well.

5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

6. Butter and flour a 10 1/2-inch pie pan or line it with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit.

7. Divide dough in half with one piece slightly larger. On a lightly floured surface, roll the large piece of dough into a circle (about 12 inches). Gently place the dough over the pan then gently fit it into the pie pan leaving the excess dough draped over the rim of the pan. Spread the pork mixture evenly over the pie crust.

8. Roll out the remaining piece of dough (to fit the pan about 10- to 11- inch circle); Place it on the top of the filling like a lid. Cut away excess dough, leaving enough dough to pinch the dough edges together with your fingers. Make about a 1-inch hole in the center of the top crust to allow some steam to escape.

9. With the excess dough, decorate the top crust as desired. Roll out some pieces to run across the top or make a cross or a simple braid to run along the edge.

10. Use a pastry brush to spread the top of the empanada with the whisked egg.

11. Bake until the top is golden about 20-25 minutes.

12. Let the empanada cool before slicing into portions and serving.

– “Spain” by Jeff Koehler (Chronicle, 2013, $40)

Ensalada Mediterranean

(Mediterranean Salad with Figs, Apricots, Feta and Olives)

Ingredients:

1 cup white wine

2/3 cup dried apricots

2/3 cup dried black figs

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons cracked black pepper

4 cups mixed baby greens

1 cup pitted black olives

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Directions:

1. Heat the wine in a small saucepan; add the apricots and dried figs.

2. Cook on low heat about 5 minutes; set aside to cool. Whisk together vinegar, oil, honey, salt, and pepper.

3. In a bowl or platter toss the greens with dried fruits, olives, feta and dressing. Mix well.

4. Divide onto small plates.

– “Espana” by James Campbell Caruso (Gibbs Smith, 2012)

Mini Meatballs

Serves 4 as a tapas dish

Ingredients:

Olive oil

Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, divided

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped, divided

2 cloves garlic, peeled — 1 finely chopped, 1 finely diced

1/2 pound ground beef or pork (the best quality) or a mixture

1 large egg yolk, preferably free-range and organic

11/2 tablespoons fine breadcrumbs

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small dried chile

2 large ripe tomatoes (I used a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes)

1 lemon

Spanish extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

1. In the words of Jamie Oliver, heat a “lug” (about 2 to 3 tablespoons) of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Finely slice the parsley stalks and add them to the pan with half the onion. Fry onion gently for a few minutes, once it starts to soften, add the chopped garlic. Fry for a few more minutes, until the onion is completely softened, then put it into a large mixing bowl and leave to cool completely.

2. Once the onion has cooled, add the ground meat, egg yolk and breadcrumbs to the bowl. Roughly chop most of the parsley leaves and add to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then crumble in the dried chile. Use clean hands to scrunch everything up until well mixed. Roll mixture into about 12 bite-sized balls, lay them on an oiled baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and pop into the fridge to firm up for half an hour. “Although putting them into the fridge helps them hold their shape, if I’m rushed for time I’ll often skip this step and take my chances. They may break up a little, but it’s not the end of the world and they’ll still taste delicious.”

3. Remove the meatballs from the fridge. Prick the tomato a few times with a small sharp knife, then drop it into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for 30 seconds or so, then use tongs to fish it out. Once it’s cool enough to handle, peel and discard the skin, squeeze out the seeds and finely chop the flesh. Put a pan on high heat and add a lug (2 to 3 tablespoons) of good olive oil. Add the meatballs and move them around for about 8 minutes, or until they are brown all over. Add remaining chopped onion and tomato. Shaking and stirring, simmer for about 5 minutes, or until everything looks beautiful and the onions are soft and cooked through. Halve your lemon and squeeze the juice from one half into the pan. Very finely chop a teaspoon’s worth of lemon from the remaining half and add it to the pan. Move everything to a serving dish, season with salt and pepper, drizzle over some extra-virgin olive oil and scatter over the rest of the parsley leaves.

– ”Jamie Oliver’s Food Escapes” (Hyperion, 2013)

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