Sunday, December 2, 2007
The Tapas Episode
My friend Stephen is in town. He's an old friend and I love him a lot. When he visits and I make dinner, we do a cooking show in my kitchen. He's the host and I'm the guest chef. We're really good. Stephen points the fake microphone like nobody's business and his banter is super frothy. I, on the other hand, know my ingredients and am handy with a knife. I can't believe we haven't been snapped up by Food Television.
Today's show was about tapas. We started it off with a trip to the market. Wide angle shots of teeming aisles and close ups of fish on ice. Cutaway to the two of us feeling fruit at one of the stalls. (That's actually not allowed, but they'll let you do anything when you have a camera crew in tow.) Ingredient selection is key to tapas preparation, I tell Stephen while groping some tomatoes. Freshness and quality are crucial. Our goal at the market is to choose wisely and be inspired.
And inspired we are. Montage of us pointing at fresh prawns, pimientos de padron, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, onions, eggs, anchovy stuffed olives and a baguette, then walking out smiling, bags in hand. Fade out. Commercial break.
Welcome back. We're in the kitchen and ready to cook. Stephen kicks us off while I'm peeling the potatoes and putting a pot of salted water on to boil. Today we're going to show you how to put together a meal of traditional Spanish tapas. And it's going to be easy peasy. Food Girl, tell us what you're going to cook for us. Well, we're going to start off with a traditional Spanish tortilla. Is that anything like a Mexican tortilla? Not at all, Stephen. A Spanish tortilla is actually an egg and potato omelette. Very interesting. What else? We're also going to make pimientos de padron. What are pimatos de padron? Pimientos. Right, pimatos. Pi-mien-tos. Pi-mien-tos, what are they? Pimientos de padron are small green peppers. Most are mild, but every batch has a few that are extremely hot. The surprise is part of the fun. Ooh, can't wait! What else? We're also going to do pan con tomate, which is a Catalan version of bruschetta, and langostinos con ajo, or garlic prawns. Sounds fantastic! Doesn't it?
Let's start with the tortilla. We'll need 4 large potatoes. We've already peeled and quartered them and have thrown them into a pot of salted water to boil until just tender. Cutaway to shot of potatoes cooking. Cutback to me. While the potatoes are cooking, we're going to prepare the eggs. We'll need six. I break the eggs into a bowl and whisk them efficiently. The eggs should be well seasoned with salt and pepper. I use about a teaspoon of salt and a little ground pepper. You can use your discretion here. We set the egg mixture aside for now and sautee the onion. I pour two tablespoons or so of olive oil into a medium sized frying pan and let it heat while I chop a large onion. Don't cry, Food Girl, don't cry. Don't worry, Stephen, I put the onion in the fridge to prevent it from releasing its juices. Great trick! I swirl the oil so that it covers the bottom of the pan and slides up the sides. I toss in the onion and give it stir. Stephen, can you check on the potatoes? Almost ready. Once those are done, can you drain and slice them? Done and done. How thinly do you want them sliced? We want them as thin as possible, but we don't want them falling apart. It's a fine line. Stephen slices a piece a little less than a quarter inch thick. Perfect. Stephen puts the potato slices into a large bowl. I continue stirring the onion. When Stephen is finished slicing, I slide the now browned onions into the potatoes and pour the egg mixture over top. I stir gently. Then I carefully pour the whole mixture back into the frying pan from whence came the onion. I lower the heat to medium low. Now we wait. Fade out and commercial break.
We're back. While the tortilla is cooking, let's prepare the other tapas. Stephen, I'm going to get you to help me with the pan con tomate. I'm yours. It couldn't be simpler. The truth is that, in most tapas places, pan con tomate is just a piece of sliced bread, neither toasted nor dried, rubbed with a bit of fresh tomato. It often comes out soggy and tasteless. So, what we're going to do is start by toasting the baguette. Cutaway to shot of baguette popping out of toaster. Cutback to me. Once the baguette is toasted, we rub it with a little garlic (the cut side of half a clove) and drizzle with olive oil. Then we cut a tomato in half crosswise, and rub it firmly on the bread so that the flesh and juice soak into the bread. And that's it. We can season it with a bit of salt to taste. It's so simple, even I can handle it, says Stephen, taking over the pan con tomate preparation.
The pimientos de padron are also extremely simple to prepare, I say pouring two or three tablespoons of olive oil into a large frying pan and putting the pan over a high flame. Once the oil is hot, we throw the whole pimientos de padron into the pan and make sure to stir them frequently so that they soften and brown evenly. They take 3-5 minutes to cook and can burn quickly if left unattended. Stephen, can you keep an eye on these while I check on the tortilla.
The tortilla has firmed up nicely on the sides and bottom and comes away easily from the sides of the pan. I slide a spatula around the tortilla to ensure it's not stuck anywhere. It isn't. It is ready to be flipped, I say. The top and middle are still a bit runny, but that's to be expected. In fact, we want it runny now; if it isn't, the finished product will be too dry. Flipping is the toughest part of the tortilla process, I continue, sweating it. In order to flip the tortilla we need a large plate or a flat pot lid large enough to hold the whole tortilla. I prefer to use a pot lid because the handle on top makes it easier to manoeuvre. I place the pot lid over the tortilla and hold my breath. It flips out easily onto the lid. As soon as it's out, I slide it back into the same pan, bottom up. Now we need just a minute or two to cook the other side.
I think the pimientos de padron are done, says Stephen. And so they are. I grind in an ample amount of rock salt and give them a last stir around. I set them aside and keep warm.
I go back to the tortilla. Contrary to your instincts, the ideal way to serve a tortilla is at room temperature after it's had a chance to sit and cool. I turn off the heat under the tortilla in the frying pan and pull out a plate with a perfectly formed, already cooked tortilla. This is one that we made yesterday. Today, it's going to be perfect. I cut two wedges out of the tortilla and place them on a large plate with the pan con tomate that Stephen has just finished preparing.
And now for the final dish, langostinos con ajo. We have a clove of garlic, already chopped that we're going to drop into tablespoon of olive oil mixed with a tablespoon of butter that we've heated in a large flat bottomed frying pan. We stir that for 30 seconds and throw in the langostinos (about half a pound). They've been washed, but we've kept them in their shells for maximum tenderness and flavour. We sautee them for 3 to 4 minutes. You know they're ready when they curl up and turn entirely pink.
We slide the langostinos onto the plate with the pan con tomate and tortilla. We arrange the pimientos de padron on the other side of the same plate. In the middle, we make a little pile of olives stuffed with anchovies because they're delicious and we just can't help ourselves. Cutaway to overhead shot of the plate (pictured above). And there you have it, quick and easy tapas.
I carry the plate to the table, while Stephen opens a bottle of Rioja. Stephen and I dig into the food with approving grunts and murmurs. The credits roll.
[P.S. For more on tapas, check out June Is Tapas Month.]