Tapas are a small snack or appetizer believed to have originated in Spanish bars that served sweet sherry, and the word "tapas" derives from the Spanish "to cover."
It is believed tapas originated from slices of bread that were placed over glasses of sherry (to cover) to keep the fruit flies out that were attracted to the sweet drink.
Tapas can be as simple as a few slices of cheese (the Spanish would insist on a sheep's milk Manchego from La Mancha with a little quince paste), a bowl of olives or as sophisticated as shrimp sautéed delicately in a good olive oil with garlic, red pepper, butter and lemon juice. There are no rules as to what can be considered tapas, but only that the serving size be kept to a bite or two for each person.
The real glory of serving tapas is that your guests will get to sample a variety of dishes that would not be possible if served as main courses and that serving so many small courses extends the time you get to share your table with guests. Be sure not to crowd the table with too many offerings, but serve them one or two at a time, allowing your guests to sample the good food and take the time to talk about what they are eating.
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MORTADELLA AND CHEESE SQUARES
Mortadella is the precursor of the South's beloved baloney. First produced in the city of Bologna in northern Italy it made its way to the United States and took on the name of the city it came from. Southerners learned to fry baloney to intensify its flavor and adding cheese and making a sandwich made it all the better. Up-scaling this recipe with the real sausage and adding good cheese and bread makes for a delightful small bite.
4-6 thick slices of Mortadella
12 cubes of best quality cheddar cheese
1 clove of garlic
1/2 cup best quality mayo
1 loaf crusty French bread
2-3 red ripe tomatoes
Cut the top 1/2 inch off the garlic clove place in a square of tinfoil and roast
with a little olive oil and Italian seasoning, say 400 degrees for 45 minutes or until soft and fragrant. Allow to cool then squeeze the garlic toes from the whole clove along with the oil and seasonings, add to the mayonnaise and blend. Use as few or many of the garlic toes as you like to make it just as garlicky as you want it. Cut the French bread into one inch slices. Cube the Mortadella to about the size of the bread, then sauté until well-browned in a little olive oil, remove and set aside. Slather the bread with the garlic mayonnaise, top with the Mortadella and add the cheese. Run under a hot broiler until well browned and then top with splices of red ripe tomatoes if you like.
SHRIMP IN GARLIC HERB BUTTER
1 pound large peeled wild caught Gulf shrimp
4-6 toes garlic
2-3 teaspoons butter
Juice of 1 lemon
2-3 pinches Italian seasoning or Herbs de Provence
1 pinch black pepper
1 pinch red pepper flakes
Season the shrimp aggressively, heat a sauté pan with a little oil until almost smoking hot. Add the shrimp and cook about 45 seconds on a side, remove from the heat and add all of the other ingredients, allow the garlic to cook and serve immediately. Serve with French bread and toothpicks for easy handling.
SWEET POTATO STUFFED EGGS
1 large sweet potato
1-2 strips smoked bacon
2-3 tablespoons best quality mayonnaise
1-2 pinches black pepper
2-3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Sweet pickles for garnish
Bake the sweet potato until a knife penetrates the flesh easily, remove and cool. Boil the eggs until firm, cool, slice in half and remove the yolk. Cook the bacon until crispy and then chop. Scoop out the flesh of the sweet potato; combine with the bacon, most of the mayonnaise and cilantro. Taste and re-season as necessary. Add the remaining mayonnaise to the egg yolk and season to taste. Stuff the eggs with the potato mixture and garnish with a spoonful of the egg yolks. Serve with sweet pickles if you like. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
MORTADELLA AND SWEET POTATO POTATO SALAD
This dish can be made with regular or white sweet potatoes.
4-6 thick slices of Mortadella
2-3 medium size sweet potatoes
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2-3 diced sweet pickles
Black pepper to taste
French bread cut into thick slices
Tony Chachere's seasoning and red pepper flakes are alternative seasonings.
Cube the sweet potatoes and gently boil until just done. If you overcook them they will lose their shape and become mashed potatoes. Slice the Mortadella into strips 2 inches long and set aside. Combine the cubed sweet potatoes, onion, celery and mayonnaise gently; taste and season with the black pepper as necessary. Sauté the slices of Mortadella until nicely browned, remove and drain. Top the slices of French bread with the salad and garnish with the Mortadella.
Optional: you can toast the French bread in a little butter first or after you have added the salad and Mortadella. The extra crunch of the toast is nice and serving these Mississippi tapas warm is a nice touch too.
It's tough to pick a wine to serve with fried baloney, but since Mortadella is an up-scale version of that sausage try Col Di Sasso an Italian red wine from Toscana that makes a great table wine and is quite inexpensive.