I've had some amazing culinary experiences in Spain: I've met world-famous chefs, eaten at the best restaurants in the world (literally), picnicked, sipped wine at all hours of the day... let's just say, I think Spain lives up to its worldly reputation.
But you can have a bit of that Spanish zest for life at your next entertaining occasion. All it takes is a bit of planning for your decor, dining, and drinks.
When I think of the many weeks I've spent on vacation in Spain, I thinking of fresh air, vivid colors, and art! The first order of party business is getting some fresh flowers for your soiree -- particularly a centerpiece vase near the area where you'll set up your tapas. Go for fragrant, aromatic florals as a priority; lillies are good choices. Don't forget to get some fresh, bright table linens and napkins.
Now, as for taking color up to the next level, I think it might be overdoing it a bit by repainting your house or apartment for a tapas night. However, make it a night to remember with art. What I suggest is pulling any extra art you have around the house out and make your entertaining area a bit like an art gallery.
For truly special occasions, go do some charity shop scavenger hunting for cool, inexpensive art pieces. Allow guests to take a piece of art home. You put a note on the back of each, choosing which piece you think each guest will like the most. Or, have guests dive in and choose which they like the most. Or, have everyone draw numbers from a hat. Or, instead of a wine swap, you can have everyone bring a piece of art to swap/trade.
The most important part of the night: the feasting! When doing it Spanish style, I suggest that you go for more dishes but smaller portions, so you get the visual sense of a technicolor feast. Plus, this is how Spanish folks eat typically -- a little bite of everything.
Here's a relatively easy lineup of tapas you can think about:
- cheese plate (or maybe some baked cheeses?!)
- meat tray
- a quiche or torta, cut into small squares (how about honey thyme or sweet potato and goat cheese)
- tomato bread (recipe here)
- croquettes or mini sandwiches
- custard or torrijas for dessert
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
- 4 teaspoons garlic
- 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- dash nutmeg
- 1/2 cup fresh basil
Mix ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, finely chopped onion, 2 teaspoons garlic, parsley, and salt and pepper. Mix until combined.
Form into balls 1 inch in diameter, and brown in olive oil.
Move meatballs over to one side of the pan, and add the remaining garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for one minute, then add the crushed tomatoes. Simmer over low heat.
In a separate pan, heat up the remaining olive oil and add the chopped onion. Sauté until onion is soft, then add the chicken stock, cream, and nutmeg. Cook for a few minutes until thickened.
Combine pan mixtures and allow to simmer 15-20 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through.
Second only to a cold glass of Spanish Cava, one of my favorite Spanish wines is anything from Rioja. Rioja wines are generally blends; the best-known and most widely consumed grape in Rioja blends is Tempranillo (though you can find white and rose offerings as well). Tempranillo is a full-bodied grape that delivers unmistakably spicy, fruity wines.
Having a Cava arrival drink for your tapas party is an excellent idea, but then I would switch to red for a bit of versatility as your guests sip and sample from the aforementioned smorgasbord of offerings.
Pictured above, I received received a sample of the Montecillo Gran Reserva Rioja 2007 (approx $29). This is a well-rounded, balanced Rioja wine perfect for parties. It has notes of dried plums and cherries, earthy with just a hint of a sweet tartness.
Pictured below, I also was able to try the Marques de la Concordia Rioja Reserva 2008 (approx $20), another well-balanced choice. While lighter, it still has complex flavors -- I taste chocolate, cedar, and spice -- that make it a great conversation starter over your trays of tapas.
I also strongly suggest having a nice pitcher of tea sangria for party cheer - especially nice for back yard entertaining. A cherry jasmine green tea sangria is wonderful, but there are lots of many combinations for tea sangria.
Whatever you choose, I'm sure you'll have a grand time. ¡Salud!