Gourmet Gents

One tradition dearly celebrated between our friends is the ritual of “victory tapas,” where we kick back and commemorate recent successes with panoply of bite-sized Spanish delicacies. Too often, people seem to think I mean celebrating “victory topless,” possibly because Williamsport doesn’t have a tapas restaurant of its own.

The word tapas comes from the Spanish tapar, meaning “to cover,” as the original tapa is a little canape of bread and chorizo, acting as a fly-deterring lid atop a glass of sherry. Tapas have evolved from those humble origins into a delicious array of snacks meant to be served with drinks and enjoyed casually over the course of the evening.

As such, it’s no surprise that we’re sometimes tempted to declare “victory tapas” over victories as simple as getting up in the morning.

For a rudimentary idea of tapas, imagine that rather than going to a restaurant and each ordering a single entree, you and your friends instead order every appetizer on the menu and have them brought out in staggered doses while you spend the rest of the night sampling and playing mix and match.

In many ways, this can provide an ideal dining experience. It encourages a slower pace, prompting greater conversation (in some cases, the ability to stand, move, and mingle is considered vital to the tapas experience), allows everyone to partake in a greater variety of dishes, and helps to eliminate that awkward moment when everyone else’s dinner is served and one lone straggler is still waiting in the kitchen. If an item proves to be a favorite, you can order another round and any potential duds can be lost in the shuffle.

Without a dedicated Spanish restaurant in town, it falls to us to either trek to Luzerne, York or Altoona, or to make them at home. Perfect for cocktail parties, the one potential hazard is the number of dishes required. Variety is the spice of life, but without proper planning, making a dozen or so different offerings can quickly put the home chef out of sorts or off their rocker.

The key is in keeping a balance, a simple charcuterie platter of meat and cheese can be sliced ahead and served with nuts, olives, bread, and either the delightful sweet-tart quince paste called dulce de membrillo or, a little less authentically, a bit of apricot preserve.

A successful evening could be made from that spread alone, or you can begin layering in other foods, taking care to ensure that you include a mixture of hot and cold or room temperature items, giving you the time and space to keep the courses coming.

Some of my favorite inclusions are scallops wrapped in bacon and doused in chile honey (which are quickly baked), thin slices of raw green apple topped with roasted beets and gorgonzola (which can be made ahead and chilled), and the great Tortilla Espanola, a dish with so much traditional clout and potential versatility, it seems criminal not to provide it in some form.

A tortilla in the sense that it is indeed still a “little cake,” Spanish tortilla is more like an omelet, frittata or crust-less quiche than the name might cause one to expect. Fluffy eggs cushion savory onions and hearty potatoes and the fragrant pizazz of sweet smoked paprika makes this something incredibly tasty at any temperature or time of day.

For that extra touch of authenticity, ensure you serve tapas alongside “Spanish Champagne” Cava, fruity sangria, or the original sherry.

Tortilla Espanola

(Spanish tortilla)

Not all groceries stock manchego cheese, yet, but Parmesan can be a decent substitute in a pinch.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 sweet onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 pound mixed fingerling potatoes, sliced thinly

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

4-6 eggs

About 2 ounces Manchego cheese,

shredded

Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent – about 5 minutes.

Add the minced garlic and continue cooking about one minute more. Then add the potatoes and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are softened.

Add the salt, pepper, and smoked paprika to the potatoes and cook until beginning to blacken and crisp around the edges. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

While the potato mixture rests, preheat the oven to 375 F and grease a 9″ pie or tart pan. Line the pan with a round of greased parchment paper to ensure easy release.

Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl, then fold in the potatoes (they don’t need to be completely room temperature, but you want them cool enough to not start cooking the eggs immediately).

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the eggs are puffy, the top is beginning to brown slightly, and the center has little to no jiggle.

Cool on a wire rack for about five minutes, then slide a small, sharp knife around the sides of the pan to free the edges and use thick oven mitts or tea towels to invert a plate over the pan, and flip to remove. Peel the parchment off the hot tortilla and sprinkle with freshly grated cheese to melt.

Serve warm or at room temperature with olive tapenade.