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Season for noshing

Mussel Escabeche with Chili Relish and Duncans' Cremini Mushroom Escabeche from Chef Mark Stark at his new Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg.

JOHN BURGESS/PD
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 10, 2012 at 2:21 p.m.

The holiday entertaining season is upon us, time to share delicious noshes and sips with friends and family.

One of the easiest ways to entertain is to slice, dice and marinate a few Spanish tapas, the savory snacks enjoyed each evening in cafes all over Spain.

“The key to tapas is simplicity,” said chef Mark Stark, who gave a “Spanish Tapas for Holiday Entertaining” class in early December at Relish Culinary Center in Healdsburg. “It should be simple if you're throwing a tapas party.”

Last Christmas, Stark put on a casual tapas party at home as a test run for his new restaurant, Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg. Bravas is the fifth Sonoma County restaurant opened by Stark and his wife, Terri, since 2002.

At Bravas, which means “spicy” or “wild,” the Starks have recreated the fun-loving spirit of Spain's sangria-sipping, bar-hopping, food-obsessed culture.

“They have a spring onion festival every year,” said Stark. “They celebrate an onion! Any excuse for a party.”

The Starks decided to do tapas in their new space because it has a small kitchen and the dishes are not terribly complicated.

“All of these dishes are easy,” Stark said. “And they're better when you do them ahead of time.”

The name tapas comes from the verb tapar, to cover. The earliest version consisted of simple slices of cured ham or chorizo sausage, placed over a glass of wine or sherry ostensibly to keep out fruit flies.

Since then, the tradition has expanded to encompass hundreds of venerated dishes, from marinated olives and seafood to fried potatoes and potato omelets.

For his cooking class at Relish, Stark hopped through the Bravas menu, choosing tapas that showcase the signature ingredients of Spain.

To start with, he served some of the beloved Jamon Iberico, a thinly sliced cured ham, along with some marinated olives.

“We use the Fermin ham because it was the first company to bring the ham to the U.S.,” he said. “It tastes like prosciutto times 10.”

The famous Jamon Iberico, a cured ham made from black Iberian pigs fed on acorns, can be ordered, pre-sliced, from websites such as La Tienda or The Spanish Table.

Another dish in the standard tapas repertoire is Tortilla Espanola, a humble but delicious omelet.

“You cook the potatoes and onions in the olive oil, drain them, and add the eggs,” he said. “We also add a little shredded Manchego.”

Since Spain boasts the longest coast in Europe, it wouldn't be an authentic feast without some kind of seafood. Stark makes a simple Mussel Escabeche served in a sardine can.

“It's like a Spanish ceviche,” he said. “Only you cook the product first and use vinegar instead of citrus.”

He also sources locally grown crimini mushrooms to make a Mushroom Escabeche, sauteed in olive oil, garlic, onions and smoked paprika, then marinated in vinegar.

One of the most iconic Spanish tapas is Leeks Calçotada served with Romesco, a Spanish sauce made with roasted red peppers and almonds. The leeks and peppers taste best when charred on a charcoal fire, but in a pinch, you could roast them on a gas grill with wood chips.

“It's such a simple dish, but it's so good,” he said. “You can serve it at room temperature.”

A platter of Spanish cheeses made from cow, sheep and goat milk, served with condiments like quince paste and Marcona almonds, can double as both a tapas dish and savory dessert.

As for Spanish beverages, the choices are nearly as broad as the country itself. Stark suggested starting with a sherry or local wine made from Spanish varietals such as Albarino or Tempranillo.

You could also take a tip from Bravas and serve pitchers of refreshing sangria, made from brandy infused with citrus and seasonal spices, then added to wine.

“The brandy can be made ahead of time and stay there forever,” Stark said. “Then you just add the red or white wine.”

Bravas bartender Jon Lilley also shakes up simple cocktails, infusing gin with exotic spices like cardamom and saffron.

“For a party, put the gin in with the spices ahead of time,” Stark said. “Then pour over ice and add the tonic.”

As a festive touch, Stark suggested filling glass decanters with different olive oils made from Spanish varietals such as Arbequina.

“Arbequina is a grassy olive oil,” he said. “It has a good, assertive flavor.”

The following recipes are from Chef Mark Stark, who gave a Spanish Tapas Party class this month at Relish culinary Adventures in Healdsburg.

Cremini Mushroom "Escabeche" with Smoked Paprika

Makes 8 servings

2 pounds button or cremini mushrooms, stems removed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ tablespoon oked paprika

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

4 sprigs hyme

½ recipe Escabeche Marinade (below)

— Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper

Sauté the mushrooms in olive oil in a large pan until browned. Add the smoked paprika, herbs and the Escabeche Marinade. Season with salt & pepper and let cool. Serve at room temperature.

Escabeche Marinade

Makes 4 cups

1yellow onion, sliced thin

8cloves garlic, sliced

2thyme sprigs

1bay leaf

—Pinch chili flakes

2cups sherry vinegar

2cups extra virgin olive oil

—Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper

Sweat the onions, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, chili flakes in half of the olive oil until soft. Add the sherry vinegar and remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Mussels Escabeche with Chili Relish

Makes 6 servings

2pounds black mussels (look for plump mussels)

1orange

½recipe of Escabeche Marinade (see above)

½cup chili relish (see recipe below)

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and season with salt to taste like the ocean.

Cook mussels in the water until just open. Remove water and let cool. Remove the mussels from the shells and place the meat in a bowl. Cover with the Escabeche Marinade.

Zest half the orange into the mussels and squeeze the juice in as well. Let marinate. The mussels are good eaten right away but get better the longer they sit.

To serve place in small bowls and top with Chili Relish. Serve with toothpicks.

Chili Relish

1red pepper

1yellow pepper

1cucumber

3jalapeño peppers

½small red onion

2tablespoons lemon juice

4tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

—Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

Brunoise the vegetables and toss with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Leeks Calçotada with Romesco

1bunch medium-sized leeks or spring onions

Equipment:

Weber or other charcoal grill

Mesquite charcoal

Newspaper

Build a mesquite charcoal fire in a charcoal grill.

While the grill is firing, cut the tops and root end off the leeks. Soak in cold water to remove any dirt.

When the fire is hot, place the leeks directly in the coals and blacken completely. Remove and wrap in paper to steam for 10-15 minutes.

To eat, remove the charred outer skin. Pull the leek apart and dip in Romesco. Enjoy with lots of red wine.

Romesco

Makes about 4 cups

5 roasted red peppers

1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted

1/3 cup almonds, toasted

¾ cup roasted garlic puree

½ cup basil leaves

5 anchovy filets

1-2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

½ tablespoon harissa

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until combined but not completely smooth.

Tortilla Española with Alioli

Makes 8 servings

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced thin

1 yellow onion, sliced thin

— Extra virgin olive oil

8 eggs

3 tablespoons salt

— White pepper

2 cups Manchego cheese, shredded

—Alioli (recipe below)

Place the potatoes and onion in a large sauté pan. Cover with olive oil. Simmer until onion and potatoes are soft. Strain the potato mixture through a colander, saving the oil, and drain well.

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the potato mixture and cheese to the eggs. Season with salt and white pepper.

Preheat a 10-inch non-stick pan with a little of the reserved oil. Add the potato-egg mixture and cook over medium heat until browned. Place a plate over the tortilla and flip it out, then slide it back into the pan and continue to cook until golden brown. Remove to a platter and let cool to room temperature. Cut into 8 pieces and serve with alioli.

Alioli

8 egg yolks

4 cloves garlic

¼ cup sherry vinegar

2 cups canola oil

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

— Salt, to taste

Place egg yolks, garlic and sherry vinegar in a food processor and puree. Slowly drizzle in oils to emulsify. Use warm water to adjust consistency (should resemble a fluffy mayonnaise.) Season well with salt.

Bravas Sangria

Makes 1 servings

1ounce brandy

—Sliced citrus (grapefruit, orange, lemon or lime) and seasonal spices (ginger, cinnamon, star anise)

1ounce Royal Combier (orange liqueur)

3ounces either red or white wine

Infuse the brandy with the citrus and the spices and let sit. Blend brandy, Royal combier and either red or white wine over ice. Garnish with slices of citrus.

The gin and tonic cocktails at Bravas are all named after the winds that sweep through Spain. Levante (meaning “it rises”) is a warm wind from the east that is funneled through the Strait of Gibraltor. Borasco is a violent wind storm.

Levante

Makes 1 serving

1½ ounces Hayman's Old Tom Gin

1 orange slice

— Pinch of saffron

5 cardamom pods

— Tonic water, to fill glass

Break cardamom pods with a muddler in a rocks glass. Lightly muddle the orange slice. Fill glass with ice. Add gin and a pinch of saffron. Top with a good-quality tonic water such as Fever Tree or Q.

Borasco

Makes 1 servings

1½ ounces Magellan gin

— Fresh ginger chunk (about the size of a quarter), grated

— Lemon slice

— Lime slice

— Tonic water, to fill glass

Add grated ginger to the bottom of a rocks glass. Add ice, gin, lemon and lime slices. Top with good-quality tonic water, such as Fever Tree or Q.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com

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