Food Review

Tapas night

There’s a little tapas place in Brighton I’ve been going to quite a bit. It’s called something like “Bodega d tapa”, and I’d link to it, but their website has been sporting an “under construction” landing page for the last three years. I think it’s the sister restaurant of Solera, and the menu is similar if you want a flavour of the offering. It’s good, but not amazing, and has somehow worked itself onto the list of places I go for a dash of comfort food when I rock up in Brighton shattered on a Friday evening. Anyway, that’s not really the point.

Meatballs with tomato sauce

The point is that I’ve been eating a lot of tapas lately, and thought it was long past time I had a crack at it. Fortunately, the folks behind the immense Spanish cookbook
1080 Recipes  have turned their attention to the subject and produced The Book of Tapas.

It’s good. It’s really good.

Cook all the thingsWe had friends over for dinner on Saturday, and this seemed like a good time to get my tapas on. Being, you know, actual tapas, many of the recipes in the book are sized as small servings for six people. Typically, I wasn’t paying attention, and so ended up serving four of us five dishes, each sized as a generous main course for at least two. There was a lot of food.

I’m not going to give full recipes for everything, because that isn’t really sporting, and I think the book is well worth the money.

We went with:

  • Ham croquetas
  • Pisto (p97)
  • Sardine tortilla (p177)
  • Meatballs (a twist on the one on p331)
  • Orange and fennel salad (p59)

I didn’t get around to making chickpeas with spinach and chorizo, but we’d had this the previous weekend, and there’s a rough recipe and some pictures below. Oh, and we had a fuck-tonne of sherry. Because sherry.

Making meatballsAs you can probably guess from my enthusiasm for the book, it all shook out rather well. I find the style of it – with the photography in short separate sections – a little irritating, but the recipes work.

The croquetas I’ve covered before, and in this case they were the ham kind, but made to the lactose-free specification, with a little cream cheese in the mix to give a lift of richness.

Pisto is a glorious simple thing. It’s just fine-diced peppers and courgette, fried off with chopped fresh tomato until it reduces. Imagine a less heavy ratatouille. It takes the edge off some of the richer dishes nicely.

Fennel and orange salad (with a sneaky dash of chorizo)The tortilla speaks for itself – it’s a big chunky omelette with sardines, and it’s tasty. The orange and fennel salad is a nice fresh note to the whole affair, too. Although I did sneak in the chorizo I didn’t get around to using. It didn’t need it, but restraint is not my oeuvre.

The chickpeas with spinach and chorizo are an old favourite. I’m fairly sure I first found it about eight years ago in a Delicious Magazine compendium called 5 of the Best, and made it pretty much right away. It’s more properly called garbanzos con espinacas, and there’s a really good recipe on Smitten Kitchen, although theirs goes heavy on the tomato and skips the chorizo.

What I generally do is wilt down spinach, pressing out the water, then fry off chorizo until it gives up most of its fat. You then set it to one side, fry some garlic in the fat, and eventually some bread until it absorbs the oily juices and crisps a little. Blitz this up with chicken stock, thyme, and a little tomato or tomato paste. Then add it back to a tin or two of chickpeas, the chorizo, and the spinach. You can fry some onion in if you like, and dope it up with extra paprika. It’s fine to get impressionistic.

The key is the slightly off-piste pulpiness of the bread/stock purée working through the spinach and chickpeas. Without a bit of tomato it’s an unappetising colour, but the taste is deep and smoky and delicious. Throw chipotles it it if you want to turn it up to eleven.

The last time I made it, I gave it a splash of PX sherry for depth and sweetness, and it serves gorgeously with a little drizzled over the top.

I’d say broadly a success, and  I’ll certainly be exploring The Book of Tapas in more detail

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