Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spanish Tapas

Last week my dad and I went to a Spanish Tapas cooking class at Liaison College. Amazingly, I haven't ever cooked Spanish food. In addition to cooking Spanish food for the first time, I also ate an olive and beef liver (not together). I'd rather eat the liver again before than the olive, to be honest.

Tapas, if you aren't familiar, is basically small bites of food originally served in bars. You know, so you can still get home after drinking. Common Spanish ingredients are garlic, saffron, almonds, smoked paprika, and sherry. We made Chili Garlic Shrimp, Meatballs with Romesco sauce, Chicken Livers in Sherry Cream Sauce (except if was beef liver instead as they couldn't find chicken livers anywhere), and Caramelized Onion Soup. My favourite was the soup, and luckily this was the dish that my dad and I were assigned.

First we watched a demo of each of the four dishes, then each group cooked one of the dishes and everybody got to take home a portion of each dish. It's always interesting getting a group of strangers in the same room. We all gathered around the demo table and as the chef chopped and cook we could ask questions about what he was doing. You knew that some people were asking a "question" that they already knew the answer to, just to show they know stuff. Those are the keeners. I was not one of them (I swear!).

Aside from discovering I really like Spanish food, I learned a couple of neat tricks from the chef. There was a lot of garlic happening and the chef doesn't like using a garlic press, which I usually use, as it squeezes out too much juice and can overpower the dish. He peeled the garlic and then smashed it with the side of his knife before chopping it (like how you would smash the garlic to remove the skin but smash it harder. I looked for a video on You Tube to include here about peeling garlic but they were all over a minute long! It's not that hard, trust me).

The other interesting thing was I had put a lid on the soup pot after adding the broth in order to get it to come to a boil faster. He came by and asked if the recipe called for the pot to be covered. It did not, and he said that was for good reason. Without the lid the soup will reduce as it comes to a boil. I hadn't ever thought of that. Patience is key here, obviously. Still working on that- I had to go busy myself watching other people prepare their dishes in order to stop myself from covering the pot.

I had planned to make the soup and meatballs for dinner last night, but it was so hot out that I couldn't fathom making soup. We ended up turning on the air conditioning and then of course a storm blew in and it's back to long-sleeved shirt weather again today. Go figure.

The meatballs are made with pork and are definitely different from your standard spaghetti and meatballs with the addition of a pinch of cinnamon and pine nuts. The romesco sauce with them is the biggest revelation though. I'd seen recipes for romesco sauce but never tried it. I expected it to be served hot and taste similar to tomato sauce. In reality, it is served room temperature or cold, and it tastes like a vinegary roasted pepper mayo. It is absolutely delicious and you'll think of lots of ways to use leftovers, I'm sure. We ate the meatballs as a sandwich with the sauce spread on the buns. Delicious.

The Sherried Onion Soup with Saffron is a little like  French Onion Soup, but it is pureed and definitely has a Spanish flair. The amazing thing is it is creamy and rich but there is no added cream. Yes, the onions are browned in butter, but it is the almonds that make it creamy. So, if it has turned a little chilly where you are too, or just feel like soup on a hot day some reason, I have included the recipe for the soup below.

Serves 4
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
  • pinch saffron threads
  • 1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted and finely ground
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp fino sherry
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp slivered almonds and chopped fresh parsley to garnish
Melt the butter in a large heavy pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic, stirring to ensure they are thoroughly coated in butter. Saute until onions just start to turn golden. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover, stirring frequently for about 20 minutes, or until onions are soft and golden brown.

Add saffron and cook, uncovered, 3 minutes. Add almonds and cook, stirring constantly, 2-3 minutes. Pour in stock, sherry, paprika, and 1 tsp salt. Season with plenty of pepper. Bring to a boil, uncovered, then simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Pour soup into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return soup to rinsed pan and reheat slowly, without allowing soup to boil, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if required. Serve immediately garnished with almonds and parsley.

Serves 6

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs, fresh preferrably
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 pine nuts or blanched slivered almonds
  • 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large slice white bread
  • 1/2 cup whole blanched almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup roasted red pepper, drained if from a jar
  • 1/4 tsp each paprika and salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
In a bowl combine all meatball ingredients except olive oil. Heat 1 or 2 large pans (if using 1 meatballs will have to be cooked in two batches) over medium-high heat. Form meat mixture into 1-inch balls, ensuring not to compact mixture too much. Saute meatballs in oil until well browned on all sides until cooked through. Drain on paper towels.

FOR ROMESCO SAUCE: While meatballs are cooking, bring a small pot of water to boil. Core stem end of tomatoes and cut a small X in the bottom. Drop tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minutes. Remove to a bowl of ice water. Peel and seed tomatoes. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp oil and bread. Fry bread until golden on both sides. 

In a food processor, finely chop bread, almonds, pepper flakes, and garlic. Add peppers, tomatoes, paprika, salt and pepper. Process to a smooth paste. Add vinegar and process to combine. With machine running, gradually add oil in a thin stream to make an emulsified sauce. Serve meatballs with romesco sauce for dipping.

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