Tapas were invented and refined in Spanish taverns, where drinkers wanted a few bites with their sherry, or they'd get drunk too fast.
Focused on small plates of simply prepared seafood, vegetables and meat, tapas recipes aim to deliver maximum tastiness for the least kitchen labor. That's made tapas a favorite menu choice for entertaining, especially if there's alcohol being poured.
In "The Book of Tapas," authors Simone and Ines Ortega offer definitive recipes for tapas classics like gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) to tortilla espanola (Spanish omelette). Tapas are more than just tradition, though, and the authors share new recipes that turn the freshest available ingredients into well-composed small plates.
This volume is aimed at people who want to capture some of the eating pleasures of Spain without airline tickets. If you want Americanized recipes, you'll have to do it yourself. The book will still call for rabbit ribs, baby eels and fresh anchovies, however unlikely you are to find those ingredients here.
Recipes start simple, like marinated olives, melon balls with Serrano ham, and prunes stuffed with Roquefort cheese. Patatas bravas, seasoned potato chunks, are boiled instead of fried here, and can be finished with little more effort than simmering spuds.
The book branches out into clusters of related recipes, providing a road map for your own elaborations. There are more than 10 versions of tortilla, the classic Spanish omelettes sliced in wedges for serving, besides the classic espanola.
There's seafood aplenty, with mussels wrapped in spinach, fried on a skewer with tomato sauce, or wrapped in bacon. A galaxy of Spanish sausages are simmered in sauce, skewered with pickles, and braised with rice.
Deep-fried tapas include ham croquettes, date and bacon bites, simple dishes of squid and little fish, lamb chops, and crispy tuna and bonito cakes with mayonnaise.
Ah, mayonnaise. Judging from the book, mayonnaise is to tapas as ketchup is to french fries, the flavor amplifier of choice, with spicy tomato sauces running second. The recipe for garlic mayonnaise is the very first one offered.
Now, there are tapas recipes here that could be considered low-fat, including a carrot and orange salad, and cardoon in vinaigrette. They are rare, though, as mayonnaise, sausages and other cured pork products roam freely throughout the lineup.
If you're horrified by the idea of bacon wrapped around a chunk of Gruyere and fried in olive oil until crispy, "The Book of Tapas" might not be your cup of tea.