Flexible tapas suit a party in flux

November 11, 2006|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Tribune Media Services

Right after Christmas last year, my husband and I spent several days in Washington, D.C. One night we went to Jaleo, one of a trio of tapas restaurants of the same name in the area. From the moment our first tapa arrived, I was in heaven. Each little dish was a surprise and a gustatory delight. I loved the idea of sampling small portions of many dishes rather than large servings of only a few.

Jose Andres, the chef at Jaleo, in his admirable book, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America, defines tapas as "a way of eating, and a way of living." "Tapa" means lid, but the origins of its use as a food are unclear. Some believe that the idea of a lid came from the Spanish tradition of covering a drink in a bar with a piece of bread or ham to protect it from flies or to guard one's place when away from the bar or the table. Their flexibility makes tapas ideal for today's cook. You can serve them as appetizers or make a whole meal of them.

Take, for example, a small gathering I am hosting. My spouse's brother and several friends are visiting New England and plan to pass through our town one evening. We have invited everyone for drinks, but because we still don't know how many friends he'll be bringing or when they're arriving, I've decided to prepare tapas.

I plan to serve bowls of marinated olives as well as thin apple wedges topped with slices of Manchego, a delicious and readily available Spanish cheese. Roasted eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes - all coated with olive oil and seasoned with rosemary - will complete the menu. The latter is a glorious dish I've created for a fall tapas class. The vegetables, spread in a single layer on a large baking sheet, are roasted 20 minutes, then peeled garlic cloves are added to the pan. The vegetables continue to roast until golden and tender, about 30 minutes more. When they're done, they're drizzled with sherry vinegar. This colorful melange can be offered warm or at room temperature, providing me with just the kind of flexibility I need for this party.

Betty Rosbottom writes for Tribune Media Services.

ROASTED EGGPLANT, POTATOES AND TOMATOES WITH ROSEMARY

Serves 5 to 6 as an appetizer 1/2 pound eggplant

10 tablespoons olive oil, divided use

1 pound (about 5 large) plum tomatoes

1 pound small Yukon Gold potatoes, 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter, unpeeled but scrubbed

2 1/4 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves, crushed (see note)

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

8 large garlic cloves, peeled

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish, optional

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Have ready a large rimmed baking sheet.

Cut the eggplant into 1 1/2 -inch cubes, skin intact. Place cubes in a large bowl, add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and toss to coat well. Arrange the eggplant cubes in a single layer on 1/3 of the baking sheet.

Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and remove and discard seeds, membranes and stems from each. Pat tomatoes dry with paper towels. Place tomatoes in the large bowl, add another 3 tablespoons of olive oil and toss to coat well. Arrange tomatoes in a single layer, cut sides up, on the next 1/3 of the baking sheet.

Halve potatoes lengthwise and add them to the large bowl with another 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Toss to coat well. Arrange potatoes in a single layer, cut sides down, on the last 1/3 of the baking sheet.

Sprinkle the vegetables with rosemary and salt, then with several grinds of pepper.

In a small bowl, toss the garlic cloves with the remaining tablespoon of oil and set aside.

Place the vegetables on the baking pan in the oven for 10 minutes. Then, using a metal spatula, loosen the vegetables to prevent them from sticking, taking care to leave the tomatoes cut sides up and the potatoes cut sides down. Bake 10 minutes more, then loosen vegetables with the spatula again. Sprinkle reserved garlic cloves and their oil over the vegetables. Continue to roast vegetables until they are browned and tender, about 30 minutes more or longer, loosening them with a spatula every 10 minutes. When done, the potatoes should be well browned on the cut sides, and the eggplant cubes and tomato halves browned around the edges.

Arrange the vegetables on a serving platter and drizzle the sherry vinegar over them. Serve warm or at room temperature. (If serving at room temperature, set aside until ready to serve; do not refrigerate.) Garnish with a bouquet of rosemary sprigs, if desired.

Note: Use dried rosemary leaves, and crush them coarsely. Several spice companies, including McCormick's and Penzey's, sell "Spanish" rosemary leaves. Either the Spanish or traditional rosemary leaves work in this recipe.

Per serving: 290 calories, 3 grams protein, 23 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 20 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 490 milligrams sodium

Recipe analysis by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.

Menu for a tapas party

Marinated olives

Thin apple wedges topped with Manchego cheese

Roasted eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes

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