Saturday 16 June 2012

Tapas? Meze? Anti-pasti?

During the so-called "Summer" months I normally write mostly about gardening, reserving my food-related articles for the Winter, but the Summer has yet to materialise here in the UK (unless that warm week at the end of May was it...), so here I am writing about food!

I consider myself to be a food-lover rather than a chef (although my repertoire is expanding), and I tend to cook unsophisticated food in simple style. This post is about a meal I put together the other day. It has a sort of Mediterranean Tapas / Meze / Anti-pasti theme to it. I wanted to produce a number of small dishes rather than one big one, so this is what I came up with.

The first course was a plate of Hors d'Oeuvres (we usually just call them "nibbles"!), accompanied by a glass of 12-year old Oloroso Sherry.  In the photo: left to right: Olives, Gherkins, Cheese, Air-dried ham, Smoked Almonds.

I just want to show you a view of the plate on which this was served. It is one we bought in Provence last year. I love it, and it is eminently suitable for serving this sort of food.

Dish number two was vaguely Spanish: Chorizo and potatoes, with onions and garlic, cooked in a frying pan. The potatoes were par-boiled already. I used only a tiny amount of oil in which to soften the onions and garlic, because once the Chorizo begins to cook it releases some fat of its own, and adding too much oil would have made the dish greasy. I just love the way the sweet yet spicy paprika in the Chorizo oozes out and permeates the whole dish.

I served the dish in a couple of very Mediterranean bowls.

Again, you can't see what the bowls are like when they are full of food, so here's another view. This sort of hand-painted rustic glazed earthenware can be found all round the Mediterranean area. Every one is unique.

Dish number three was vaguely North African: Chick Peas in a spicy tomato sauce, flavoured with fresh and dried Oregano and dried Chilli flakes. This one was ridiculously easy. All I had to do was put the ingredients in a pan and warm them up! Actually I did simmer it gently for a while to thicken the sauce a bit. My dish used tinned tomatoes and tinned pre-cooked Chick Peas. If I had had any I would probably have preferred to use fresh home-grown tomatoes. At least the fresh Oregano was from my own garden.

At this point I would like to mention that we had started to drink with these dishes a bottle of what we had hoped would be a nice wine. It was a Chilean Carmenere, from Casillero Del Diabolo (normally very reliable). Unfortunately one sniff followed by a very tentative sip was enough to tell us that the wine was corked (gone bad). It had a horrible taste and smell! So plan B was rapidly invoked and we ended up drinking an Italian Primitivo del Salento, which was nice but not up to the standard of a good Carmenere!

Actually the advent of the Italian wine was no bad thing because my final dish was a Pea and Bacon risotto.

I'm not in the habit of providing full recipes for my dishes - and anyway most of you will already know how to make a risotto - but let me just say on this occasion that I fried my bacon lardons first, until well coloured, and then removed them, leaving some nice tasty fat in which to soften the onions. The peas were fresh ones (from the supermarket I'm afraid), and I added them towards the end of the cooking time since they only take five minutes or so to cook. For a good risotto it is important to use the right type of rice, and your usual long-grain or Basmati rice will not do. Use a short-grain type, such at Arborio or Carnaroli. They produce a much creamier texture - which I enhanced by adding some finely-grated Parmesan cheese.

When ready (patience is always required for a risotto), I served my dish with a garnish of shaved Parmesan and some Rocket picked from the garden:

In retrospect I should have delayed the photo until after adding a few generous grinds of black pepper...

Well , I don't know what you think, but we liked it! Just in case you think we were being greedy, I should perhaps point out that each individual dish was quite small and all of them together only added up to what most people would consider a "normal" meal... (honestly!)


  1. I would have preferred a veg post as we have just come in from being out most of the day feeling quite hungry wondering about what to eat...and then I read this, juices suitably flowing, a cheese sandwich didn`t quite fit the bill. Nice post Mark.On another question can you comment we went to a fete today and bought back lots of cheap plants one of which was a chilli pepper `Padron ` for 20p any advice on this would be welcome.

    1. David, I have never grown Padron, but I have eaten them. They are the type that are traditionally served fried until blistered, usually as an accompaniment to lots of cold beer. I must say that I wasn't very keen on them.

    2. thanks for that advice Mark well if we don`t like them too we have only wasted 20p

    3. I love padron! They are delicious (in my opinion). In fact I have two packets of padron seeds just waiting for late spring for me to start raising. I haven't grown them yet, this will be my first season. They need a dash of sea salt as well as the blistering and I like them with fino!

  2. The first one reminds me of what I usually have for lunch nowadays. Little nibbles of things. Though right now most of my nibbles are veggies.

  3. MMM looks yummy I too had risotto for dinner tonight .!

  4. Looks delicious! Potatas a la Riojana! The plates are beautiful!

  5. Yum, you're making me hungry. I love the bowls and plates too, they must remind you of some happy holidays from where they were purchased. I'm very impressed about your knowledge of wine, I don't have a clue about which wine goes with which dish, in fact I don't even choose red or white, it's white all the way for me no matter what we're eating, the opposite for my hubby, he drinks only red.

  6. My kind of food. Anything where you get a choice of plates is simply perfect for me! I love the look of the chickpea stew. Ideal for this amazing summer we're having!!

  7. Lovely meal - I love eating this sort of food. Interesting that your wine was corked - you almost never see corks in bottles here so although sometimes the wine is just plain awful they are very rarely corked these days.

  8. That is it, you have successfully summoned up thoughts of Spain in my head and made me dribble. Well done!

  9. Beautiful pics of fine food as always! The plates are very festive and pretty.
    While all the food looks wonderful, my mouth's anticipation goes to Dish Number Two! It looks absolutely delicious!

  10. Very, very nice! I have never eaten dinner with more than one course even small ones. The one with the potatoes and the last one look like something I would make and gave me some good ideas.
    I absolutely love the plates especially the first long plate.
    You have made me hungry now. I am going to have to go get some breakfast going.

  11. Hi Mark, beautiful post, and those dishes contribute to it a lot. Everything looks absolutely delicious, I can't even choose which meal I would prefer. Perhaps, I would try all of it.
    Mark, I want to share with you my little victory: my labor in the garden rewarded me with a small harvest (please, see photo of it on my blog). The reason I am so proud is because I don't have an actual garden, I grow everything on my 4x8 meters patio. Your blog is an inspiration for me.

  12. you've served up many of my favourite foods. I think my Viking ancestors must have taken a detour to the Mediterranean.

  13. Wow... That's a lot of varieties. I love food like this! I will definitely the tomato and chick pea side dish. It looks easy and is completely vegetarian.

  14. That is the kind of food I like too. The plates are beautiful. As I have already once said, I would gladly join you at the table!


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