The grain of Spain is rice, fixed with fish and tomato, mainly

July 29, 1992|By Kim Pierce | Kim Pierce,Contributing WriterUniversal Press Syndicate

From the seafood of the sunny Mediterranean to the hearty stews of the chilly Atlantic coast, Spain's cuisine reflects the geographic diversity of the Iberian peninsula. It also bears the imprint of the New World -- most noticeably in the tomato -- from Christopher Columbus' 1492 voyage.

With the voyage's 500th anniversary, the Summer Olympics in Barcelona and Expo '92 in Seville, suddenly the world is discovering Spanish cuisine.

But in most quarters, only "paella" and "tapas" are clearly identified as Spanish. Paella is the national dish, and tapas, which often contain sausage or seafood, are the appetizer plates popular at Spanish wine bars.

Two major ingredients of paella, rice and fish, are integral to much Spanish cooking, says Dolores Marti, who teaches Spanish cooking. It also contains saffron, another main Spanish ingredient, as well as chicken, pork and occasionally sausage, in some regions, says Ms. Marti.

Gazpacho, a cold vegetable soup, also is popular throughout the country, she says, with many regional variations. As likely as not, it will be made with tomatoes, a transplant from the New World, and olive oil.

Along with olives, cheeses, game and cured meats, tomatoes and olive oil are staples of the Spanish pantry.

And, there are tapas. "Tapa" means "to cover" in Spanish. In the wine bars, people put a little plate on top of the wine glasses to keep fruit flies off. They started to put food on the plate -- olives, sausage. Now tapas are everywhere in Spain.

Gazpacho Makes 6 servings.

5 ripe medium tomatoes (divided use)

2 cucumbers (divided use)

4 cups ice water (divided use)

2 green peppers

2 cloves garlic, peeled

5 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

croutons

Peel and seed tomatoes; set 3 aside. Peel and seed cucumbers; set 1 1/2 aside. Dice remaining 2 tomatoes and 1/2 cucumber; cover and refrigerate until serving time.

Place in a blender and process with 2 cups ice water until finely chopped: 3 ripe tomatoes, 1 1/2 cucumbers, green peppers and garlic. Add olive oil and mix well. Pour into large bowl. Add remaining 2 cups ice water, salt and pepper; stir, mixing well. Chill gazpacho for at least 2 hours.

At serving time, gently stir in vinegar. Pass the vegetables and croutons to sprinkle over soup.

Catalonian bread with tomatoes 2 large ripe tomatoes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small garlic clove, pressed

salt and pepper

1 loaf French or Italian bread

Halve tomatoes and remove all the pulp, including seeds, and put in a small bowl. If mixture is very watery, drain slightly. Mash pulp with the back of a fork, mix in olive oil and garlic; season with salt and pepper to taste. Slice bread, heat and toast, and spread each slice with tomato mixture. Serve with cheese and sausages.

Tortilla campera Makes 4 to 6 servings.

1 cup new potatoes, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 peppers (red, green or yellow), seeded, cored and cut in julienne strips

1 medium onion, sliced thin

6 eggs, slightly beaten

salt and pepper

Heat broiler. Boil potatoes in salted water until just tender; drain and set aside. Heat olive oil in a heavy, medium skillet. Add the peppers and onion, and saute gently over medium-low heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add potatoes and cook 1 minute more. Add the eggs, salt and pepper, and stir quickly to incorporate vegetables. Cook until the bottom is set, about 5 minutes. Place under broiler for 2 to 3 minutes until top is golden. Serve hot or cold cut in wedges.

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