A Fresh Take on Classic Spanish Tapas
The time-honored tradition of tapas, a small appetizer-like plate paired with a glass of wine, is keeping up with the culinary times, thanks to innovative chefs across Spain and the U.S. As the tapas trend continues, we tapped a select group of chefs to share their new versions of some classic bites.
Make one as a starter, or select several to mimic the Spanish tradition of roaming from bar to bar and savoring a bite from each stop. You can also serve them together as an inspired Spanish buffet.
Courtesy Anthony Sasso, executive chef, Tapas Bar at La Sirena, New York City
In Spain, croquetas are usually filled with béchamel and ham or cod. This version combines three Spanish classics: paella, croquetas and gazpacho. Sasso marries the Spanish version with Sicilian arancini served at the many Italian restaurants of owners Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich.
- 4 yellow beefsteak tomatoes
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- Kosher salt
Heat oven to 375˚F. Toss whole tomatoes in bowl with just enough olive oil to coat. Place tomatoes on sheet tray. Roast for 25–30 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft and skin blisters. Remove from tray, and cool for at least 10 minutes. In blender, working in batches if necessary, combine tomatoes, garlic and vegetable oil. Purée until smooth. Season with salt, to taste. Can be made 24 hours in advance and stored in refrigerator.
- 4 medium tomatoes
- 1 white onion, coarsely chopped
- 8 jarred piquillo peppers
- ½ cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- Salt, to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon saffron
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 quarts chicken stock, divided
- 3 tablespoons mascarpone
- 3 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 1 quart vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 pint mixed-color cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Quarter 2 tomatoes and grate other 2. Place quartered tomatoes, onion and peppers in food processor. Process into fine paste, about 30 seconds. Warm 3 tablespoons olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Toast garlic until golden. Add puréed tomato mixture. Cook 10–15 minutes, or until mixture starts to darken and thicken.
Add rice and stir to coat. Season with pinch of salt and saffron. Deglaze with white wine, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Cook until all wine is evaporated, and then add grated tomatoes. Cook until liquid evaporates. Add 1 quart chicken stock. Cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 6–8 minutes. Repeat with remaining chicken stock. At this point, rice should be fully cooked. Fold in mascarpone, and add salt to taste. Spread onto a sheet tray. Let cool.
Once cool, use ice-cream scoop to make rounds slightly smaller than golf balls (1½ ounces each). Chill in refrigerator. Once cold, coat completely in panko. Refrigerate at least 3 hours (can be made 24 hours ahead).
To fry, heat vegetable oil in Dutch oven until thermometer reaches 375˚F. Working in batches, place 10–12 croquetas into oil using a slotted spoon or spider, adjusting heat to maintain oil temperature. Fry for 2 minutes, or until dark gold on outside and heated through inside (use toothpick to check). Transfer to paper towel-lined plate, and season with salt.
Serve croquetas atop shallow pool of chilled or room-temperature gazpacho. Toss cherry tomatoes with lemon juice and remaining olive oil. Use mixture as garnish. Serves 8.
Sparkling wine and fried foods are the ultimate pairing, so La Sirena Wine Director Scott Waltz starts things off with Marc Hébrart NV Brut Rosé Champagne. “Biscuit-like notes pair perfectly with the panko crust of the croquettes, while the rosé provides a little more body for the paella,” says Waltz. “Hébrart’s rosé has a remarkable elegance, enlivened by both zesty acidity and a vivid saline chalkiness.”
Adapted from Fabio Trabocchi, chef/owner, Del Mar, Washington, DC
Fabio and Maria Trabocchi, known for their renowned mini empire of Italian restaurants in Washington, DC, are referencing Maria’s Spanish roots for their next project, Del Mar. Set to open in October, the husband-and-wife team provided Wine Enthusiast with a preview of their menu.
At the restaurant, this dish will be served with raw gambas de Soller, the shrimp Maria grew up eating during summers in Mallorca. Fabio recommends using the more available Spanish Imperial red shrimp, known in Spain as carabineros. We’ve cooked them here, but if you have access to super-fresh shrimp, feel free to leave them raw.
- 1½ pounds jumbo shrimp (preferably Spanish Imperial), shelled, deveined, halved vertically
- 2 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
- 3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 small dried hot red guindilla chilis (or 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes)
- Pinch of coarse sea salt, preferably black
Bring large, well-salted pot of water to boil. Add shrimp, cover and remove from heat. Let sit until shrimp are cooked, about 10 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water to stop cooking, pat dry and refrigerate until cool.
Slice 8 cloves garlic very thin. Set aside. Warm 2 cups olive oil in cast-iron pan or heavy skillet until very hot, but not smoking. Add garlic slices. Cook just a few seconds, until lightly golden. With slotted skimmer, transfer garlic to paper towel-lined plate.
Pour oil from skillet into small saucepan, and add remaining 1 cup olive oil. Add chili and remaining garlic cloves. Cook over low heat until oil starts to just bubble around garlic cloves. Remove pan from heat. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Strain, and discard garliv cloves and chili.
Divide shrimp between 8 plates. Drizzle with chili-garlic oil. Garnish with garlic slices, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Serves 8.
Del Mar Wine Director Casper Rice suggests the 2014 vintage of Bodegas del Palacio de Fefinanes’s 1583 Albariño from Rías Baixas, Spain. He says it’s “quite complex, with aromas of baking spices and smoky, toasted vanilla bean and ripe pineapple on the palate. The wine highlights the sweetness of the carabineros and balances the spiciness from the chili with its natural fruitiness.”
Adapted from Alex Múgica, executive chef, La Cocina de Alex Múgica, Pamplona, Spain
Although tortilla Española is delicious, the thick, frittata-like omelette is usually a homely affair, served by the slice on a plate or on a piece of baguette. This elegant version, which features oil-poached potatoes, quail egg and truffled potato purée, is a mainstay at La Cocina de Alex Múgica in Pamplona, Spain.
Chef Alex Múgica has won multiple awards at tapas and culinary competitions in Pamplona and the province of Navarra. His namesake restaurant is on Calle Estafeta, most famous as the route taken by the charging bulls and thousands of tourists each morning during the Feast of San Fermin.
At the restaurant, the dish is served in an eggshell. To do this, use paring knife or scissors to cut off tops of 8 eggs. Pour out yolks and whites, and reserve for another use. Boil shells to sterilize. To add whimsy, arrange in cardboard egg carton to serve. It’s best enjoyed with small spoon to reach the bottom of shell so you combine tastes into one bite.
- 2 medium starchy potatoes, like russet
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Arbequina from Navarra
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- ¼ cup heavy cream, warmed
- 8 quail eggs
- Maldon salt, to taste
- 1 ounce potato chips, crushed
- 8 thin slices black truffle, preferably fresh
- 1 teaspoon truffle oil
- 1 scallion, finely chopped
Cut 1 potato into ¼-inch dice. Warm olive oil in small pot. Poach potato for 5–7 minutes, not allowing oil to smoke or bubble. Drain potato on paper towels. Set aside.
Cut remaining potato into ½-inch dice. Bring large pot of well-salted water to boil. Add potato and cook approximately 20 minutes. Drain potato, reserving 1 ounce of cooking water. Place potato, melted butter, cream and cooking water in food processor. Process until smooth.
Bring shallow pot of water to boil. Add quail eggs one by one and cook until whites are set, about 1 minute. Transfer to paper towel, and pat dry.
Divide potato cubes between 8 small cups or sterilized eggshells, straining off excess oil. Layer in poached quail eggs, sprinkle of Maldon salt, crushed potato chips, truffle and potato purée. Add drops of truffle oil. Garnish with scallion. Serves 8.
Múgica prefers a glass of Bodegas Ochoa’s Rosado de Lagrima, made from Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, alongside his stylistic version of Spanish omelette. “Rosé from Navarra offers a full mouthfeel and flavors of raspberry and strawberry that will hold up to the creaminess of the potato foam and richness of quail egg.”
Looking like a double-crust pizza, empanada Gallega, a treat from Galicia, is actually crafted from flaky pastry dough. Bakery windows across Spain are filled with these, which beckon passersby to head in for a slice.
Katie Button, the lauded executive chef and co-owner of Nightbell and Cúrate Bar de Tapas in Asheville, North Carolina, included this recipe in her cookbook, Cúrate: Authentic Spanish Food From an American Kitchen (Flatiron Books, 2016). Her secret weapon for the dough is to add reserved cooking oil from the sofrito. It increases the flavor profile exponentially.
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
- 1 large onion, very thinly sliced
- 1 large red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and very thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 cup crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 6-ounce can or jar tuna packed in olive oil, drained and shredded
- 2 tablespoons thin-sliced pitted Kalamata olives
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
In large skillet, warm oil over medium heat. Add onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add pepper and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all vegetables are very soft, about 20 minutes. Set fine-mesh sieve over measuring cup. Strain vegetables and return to pan, reserving drained liquid.
Add crushed tomatoes to vegetables. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until liquid has mostly evaporated, about 10 minutes. Stir in tuna, olives and salt. Transfer to airtight container. Refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
- ¾ cup sofrito oil
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2¼ teaspoons kosher salt
- 2¼ teaspoons instant yeast
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
Check amount of reserved sofrito oil. If not ¾ cup, add olive oil to make up difference.
Pulse flour, salt and yeast in food processor until well mixed. Add sofrito oil and ½ cup water. Process until dough comes together. Move dough to work surface. Knead a few times and roll into ball. Place in bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
Fill small bowl with ice and water. Bring small saucepan of water to boil. Add 1 egg, and cook 12 minutes. Transfer to ice bath. When cool, peel and dice. Beat remaining egg with cream in small bowl to make egg wash.
Heat oven to 375˚F. Divide dough in half. On parchment paper, roll each piece into a 13-inch round (1/8-inch thick). Slide one round onto rimless cookie sheet. Spread vegetables evenly over dough, leaving ¾-inch border. Sprinkle hard-boiled egg evenly on top. Pat egg into filling to ensure there’s no air pockets.
Flip other dough round over filling, aligning edges. Peel off parchment. Press dough edges together and pinch all the way around to seal.
Brush egg wash over empanada. Using sharp knife, cut 2-inch “X” in center of empanada. Add three 1-inch air vents around center. Firmly press down dough to remove air pockets. Cut air vents open again, if needed.
Place in oven. Bake until golden brown, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cool pan on wire rack. Cut empanada into 8 equal pieces, and serve warm or room temperature. Serves 8.
Button’s husband, Spanish native Felix Meana, manages the front of house and the wine list at Cúrate. With his wife’s empanada Gallega, Meana likes Guímaro’s 2015 Ribeira Sacra Tinto, made from the Mencía grape. “Red wines from [Galicia] tend to be lighter and tangier so that they pair well with seafood,” he says. “This wine has some nice black fruit aromas, pepper and black olive, but it is bright, juicy, and fresh with a nice minerality, a perfect red for a Spanish picnic.”
Tapas bars in Spain have the following staples on hand at all time to offer alongside a glass of wine. You can start your evening off with these or place them on the table for your guests to nibble on while you finish preparation of the next dish.
High-end grocery stores will often carry a full lineup of Spanish products. Despaña Brand Foods also offers a wide variety of specialty food and ingredients from Spain.
Spaniards are so crazy about cured ham from the hind leg of Iberian pigs that they hold contests to determine who can carve it into the thinnest slices. Jamón Serrano is a readily available, more affordable substitute that’s just as Spanish.
Triangular slices of sheep’s milk cheese from La Mancha (home of Don Quixote) are an ever-present delicacy in restaurants and homes alike. Semi curado or young versions will be fresh and moist. Wheels or wedges marked curado, which are aged for six months, will have deeper, nuttier flavors.
Brine cured green olives from Southern Spain offer smoky, almond-like flavors and a burst of acidity. While Spaniards enjoy them with Fino Sherry, they are also an ideal accompaniment to lightly aged Albariño.
Crusty bread is a wonderful base for a slice of jamón or triangle of cheese. It is also useful for sopping up excess sauce or dipping into small bowls of peppery Spanish olive oil.
- 1Paella Croquetas with Yellow Tomato Gazpacho
- 2Carpaccio de Carabineros
- 3Alta Estilo Tortilla Española
- 4Empanada Cúrate
- 5Bits and Bites