I like little things. Maybe this is because I myself am little. Or maybe it’s because there’s something absolutely endearing about holding a button-sized penguin in the palm of your hand. Penguins. I don’t know.
This is also perhaps why I find tapas particularly appealing. They are small. Though messy, you can hold them in your hands. Also, they are delicious.
For a long time, my favorite restaurant was a Spanish tapas place in Bremen called Aioli. I was thirteen the first time we were there – my family and a group of college students doing a summer study program with my parents. We sat wedged together at a big table, sneaking bits of fried octopus and potato slices, anchovies, dates wrapped in bacon, marinated eggplant slices. Picking food from platters family style, because that summer, we were like family. The restaurant was snuck into the Schnoor viertel, one of the oldest sections of town. Like everything in the Schnoor, where the roads were as wide as a handspan and the buildings all falling in on themselves, we could never find the restaurant again if we were looking for it. Just every now and then, we’d turn a corner and its friendly yellow façade would be waiting there to welcome us inside, promising fresh sangria heaped with fruits, dim blue lights, wooden tables, and slathers of garlic.
I once told a friend of mine about this favorite restaurant. Apparently, he spent the entire conversation under the impression that I’d said “topless restaurant.”
Oh, tapas, tapas, tapas.
I made tapas with a friend from work this week. I’ve never actually made tapas before, just happily stuffed my face with them whenever I got the chance. But making them is lovely – and possibly the best sort of meal to cook with someone else who knows how to cook. We worked well together in the kitchen, each of us tackling different tasks, cutting what needed to be cut as we found it, simultaneously seasoning, adjusting burners, snacking.
And it was hard to stop snacking – whether it was on the tomato sauce growing fragrant on the stove, or bits of chorizo before they were swum in wine. We snacked on prunes and dates, olives, and wheels of roasted vegetables. And when we finished making all our tapas, we sat at the tiny kitchen table and snacked some more until our snacking made a whole meal.
Halve or quarter a handful of assorted fingerling potatoes (as many as you think you’ll eat). Toss them with olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper. Arrange on a roasting pan and roast at 375 F° for about 30 minutes or until the outside of the potatoes are beautifully crispy and brown. Sprinkle freshly chopped parsley on the potatoes about 15 minutes before you take them out of the oven. While your potatoes are roasting, prepare the tomato sauce. In a skillet, sauté 2 medium onions, diced, and 2 cloves of chopped garlic until translucent. Add 1 can/jar of tomato sauce, ½ cup chicken broth, ¼ cup of rice wine vinegar, and a handful of halved green olives. Add a small handful of flour to thicken the sauce. When the sauce begins to bubble, turn heat to low and allow to simmer. Season with a healthy tsp of sugar, black pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Allow sauce to reduce until thick – add more chicken broth (or water if the sauce is too salty) if it gets too thick too quickly. Don’t rush the sauce – it takes time for all the flavors to melt together. Serve the roasted potatoes with the tomato sauce. Garnish with fresh parsley.
Roast Vegetable Antipasta
You can make this at the same time as the patatas bravas, since the oven is set to the same temperature (375 F°). Slice 1 zucchini and 1 small eggplant into medallions. Halve a red pepper. Toss the vegetables with olive oil and place them on the roasting pan and roast until soft. The peppers take a while – half an hour – the thinner slices of zucchini and eggplant maybe only 15 minutes per batch. Thinly slice the vegetables and set aside in a bowl. In a skillet, sauté 1 small, slivered onion with 1 tsp honey and a pinch of salt until translucent. Add to sliced vegetables. Add 1 large clove finely chopped garlic, a slip of olive oil, salt, and black pepper to the vegetables in the bowl. Toss. Allow to rest so that flavors can blend.