Friday, February 19, 2010

trying tapas

Tapas are such a treat for those doing the eating. For the ones doing the cooking it is another story. This traditional small plates bar food of Spain can make a great party theme, as Amanda suggested in the last post, but not for the feint of heart. Tapas, like hors d'oeuvres, are labor intensive - lots of little things need to be prepared. Such is the case with the classic Spanish tapas dish croquettes. I was curious about croquettes because they seem to be featured on all tapas menus. Having never made them before a little research was needed.

The classic recipes I found on-line described a bechamel sauce based paste that is chilled and then rolled in breadcrumbs and egg and then deep fried. Really, just a thick bechamel sauce? Um, yeah. Bechamel is a classic white sauce of butter and flour that is thinned with milk. I have tasted traditional croquettes in tapas restaurants and it had never occured to me that this was how they were made.

Ok, let's try it. Most of the recipes call for chopped ham to be added as the flavoring. In keeping with our vegetable point of view I decided to go with swiss chard, sauteing it with some onions and garlic.

I confess I was feeling skeptical about the whole deal. A sludgy paste of flour dipped in bread crumbs and FRIED! I dont know. Didn't really sound healthy or good.

Making the bechamel did nothing to assuage my skeptism. It comes out like grade school paste. Not really appetizing. I folded in my cooked chard and then refrigerated the mush overnight as the various recipes suggested. Next day: form the croquettes, dip, dip, dip and fry.
The assembly line.

Still not convinced I took a bite. YO that is GOOD!!! I can't believe how yummy they came out! Creamy and crispy with a rich flavor from the chard. Kind of like a savory doughnut, which seems obvious now. I am stunned.

When would I make this again? I don't know, it isn't really everyday cooking as it is so time consuming and wont be appearing on any weight watchers list. I almost want to plan a whole tapas party around them. Eat them right out of the fryer and bliss will follow!

Swiss Chard Croquettes
-adapted from Tapas Recipes, small plates from Spain

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 bunch swiss chard, washed and chopped
2 cloves garlic finely minced
½ cup onion, chopped
7 Tbs. Butter
¾ cup flour
2 ½ cups cold milk
1/2 teas. ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 cub of bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

Heat oil in a sauté pan and add the chard, garlic and onions. Cook for 10 minutes until the chard is tender. Drain chard and set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the flour, stirring continuously. Allow the flour to cook in the butter for a couple of minutes, continuing to stir.
Start adding the cold milk little by little, stirring all the while until you have a thick, smooth sauce.  Season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the cooked chard and continue to cook for 3- 4 minutes. The end result should be quite thick. Let the mixture cool completely - it is usually a good idea to leave it overnight.
Take a scant tablespoon of the mixture and form into a croqueta, a 1 1/2 - 2 inch cylinder. Roll the croqueta in the breadcrumbs, then coat in the beaten egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs again. Make sure the breadcrumbs are always dry to ensure an even coating.
Heat the oil for deep-frying in a large, heavy-based pan until the temperature reaches 350ºF or a cube of bread turns golden brown in 20-30 seconds. Fry in batches of no more than 3 or 4 for about 5 minutes until golden brown. Remove with a slatted spoon, drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately.

makes about 36 croquettes

I'm definitely willing to give this one a try! I had a very light lunch and now it is 3:30 and my stomach is growling reading this post! By the way, in case you were wondering - guess what I had for lunch? Brussel Sprouts!!! Leftover from last night. The ones I made following Denise Landis' recipe! Outstanding! In fact, not only did I have them for lunch, but my mother in-law is coming for dinner tonight and guess what is on the menu?! Yep - you got it - Brussel Sprouts with Sherry and Pecans. Can't wait. Might even shake things up a bit and add some carmelized shallots. Serving them alongside salmon.

Back to the croquettes and the Tapas first inclination was to suggest Pinot Noir. But, if I were to do a Tapas themed night at my house, I would be pouring Spanish wines. And I would have both red and white. So, starting with red - I want something simple. Again, the context in which you are drinking the wine is important. I don't want an expensive, complex, serious wine for a fun, light-hearted night with friends. If "fun" food is served, I want a "fun" wine to match. Something light, fruity and food-friendly to match a variety of the foods that will be enjoyed. Go for a Grenache, or perhaps Tempranillo.

These days, I am enjoying a delicious, affordable Garnacha (Grenache) from Spain called Evodia. The Garnacha comes from old vines, and the wine offers sweet fruit, and is very smooth drinking. It's easy-going, and not overly complex. I love the idea of this wine with these croquettes! Evodia can be found for around $8.99. If you can't find the Evodia, ask your local shop for a recommendation on a nice, affordable Garnacha.

For white, Cava would be a wonderful choice. Cava is a sparkling white - Spain's answer to Champagne. Just a great option for a Tapas themed party. Cristalino Brut Cava is a big seller here at Wine and Spirit World. And at $7.99 a bottle, it's just the perfect crowd-pleasing sparkler! The Spanish varietals used are Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo. This is such a crisp wine with bright citrus flavors and hints of green apple. A terrific match for fried foods! And, extremely versatile. Renowned wine critic Stephen Tanzer from the International Wine Cellar calls the Cristalino an "extraordinary sparkling wine for the price".

Tapas, sparkling white and wonderfully fruity reds - this is definitely a recipe for an incredible night with friends!

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