Tapas, Spanish for “little bites,” is an easy way to feed friends. Social by nature, a tapas party is true slow food. The tapas meal is served one course at a time with everyone gathered around, sharing bites. You can bring the party to the kitchen where the cooking is ongoing.

To host your own tapas party, you’ll need the following:

  • Spanish wine, enough for one or two glasses per guest
  • Menu, recipes and fresh ingredients (best bought the day before)
  • Small plates, one for each guest
  • Several serving platters (you can wash plates in between courses)
  • Cast iron cooking pan (ideally, cast iron)
  • Cooking pot
  • Cookie sheet

First, create your menu. You can find recipes online and it is okay to use a few of your favorite appetizers that are not of Spanish origin. “Tapas: A Classic Collection of Spanish-Style Recipes” offers all the tapas recipes you need to get inspired.

One spice required that you might not have readily in the kitchen — although once you try it, you’ll want to keep it handy — is smoked Spanish paprika. There is Spanish paprika and smoked Spanish paprika. Get the smoked; you’ll fall in love with this sultry spice that clings to potatoes and brightens vegetables. If you live in Missoula, Butterfly Herbs & Tea sells the spice in bulk. Penzeys Spices sells it online and in their stores, if you live near one.

When you create your menu, start with a simple platter: fruit, nuts, cheese. Go with what fruit is ripe and in season, for example, strawberries in early summer, blood red oranges in winter. Dried cherries or apricots are a good choice any time of year. Almonds are the traditional tapas nut and you can roast them in the oven with olive oil and coarse sea salt, adding smoked papkria to taste after roasting. Manchego is sheep’s milk cheese from Spain and the most traditional for tapas. However, you can serve an aged cheese such as Irish cheddar.

The remainder of your menu will be an array of vegetable and meat tapas. Each course is served one at a time so look at your recipes carefully to decide the timing of which ones to begin and end with. Go light on the meat or the meal will be too heavy for your guests. One or two meat courses, plus four two six vegetable courses is a good balance. Have crusty bread available throughout the night to sop up some of the savory juices from each course.

Finally, finish with a cooling desert. Tapas is spicy — not necessarily spicy hot, but warm with paprika, cumin and garlic –so a mango sorbet or Spanish flan or coconut cream pie a nice end to the meal. Sorbet or lemon ice is a great choice in the summer. Flan or pudding-based dishes are traditional to Spain.

Do your shopping the day before. Before your guests arrive, have the cheese set at room temperature and ready the fruit, nut and cheese platter in advance. Have the crusty bread ready, too. If you marinated olive or mushrooms, start with that course after guest get arrive. Most tapas recipes are simple, but you’ll be cooking all evening. Take a break in between course and join in the merriment. Invite guest to help prep the next course. Remember, this is “slow food” spread out over two to four hours.

To get you started, here is a sample menu served in this order along with a few simplified tapas recipes based on my own tapas parties:

  • Grapes, Irish cheddar, raw almonds
  • Olives
  • Crusty Bread
  • Smoky Pine Nuts & Green Beans
  • Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
  • Parmesan Garlic Toast
  • Red Wine Linguisa
  • Garlic Mushrooms
  • Seared Spanish Potato Wedges
  • Coconut Cream Pie

Smoky Pine Nuts & Green Beans

Trim and blanch one pound of fresh green beans, drain and set aside. Saute 1/3 cup of pine nuts in 1 tsp. olive oil, stirring for several minutes until toasted. Place nuts in a small bowl and toss with 2 Tbsp. smoked Spanish paprika. Using the same saute pan (cast iron works best) stir-fry the blanched green beans in 1 tsp. olive oil for three minutes, then add the pine nuts and stir for another minute. Place on a platter with a drizzle of lemon juice (fresh is best).

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus

Preheat oven to 350 F. Start with one bundle of fresh asparagus and one package of thin, but quality bacon. Thick bacon makes it hard to wrap. Take one strip of bacon and spiral-wrap one stalk of asparagus. Lay each one in a baking pan. Once all the stalks are wrapped, placed the pan in the oven until the bacon is cooked, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Parmesan Garlic Toast

Leave the oven on after preparing the asparagus-wrapped bacon. Thinly slice a baguette of sourdough. Lay each slice on a cookie sheet. While slicing, melt half a stick of butter with 3 cloves of garlic (chopped, coarsely). Butter each slice with melted garlic butter. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and shredded Parmesan. Toast in the oven 5 to 7 minutes.

Red Wine Linguisa

Admittedly, linguisa is a Portuguese sausage, so you can substitute chorizo. The day before, prick two sticks of sausage with a fork and cover with red wine. Let it marinate in the refrigerator until it is time to prepare the course. Heat a cast iron pan as you you slice the wine-soaked sticks, reserving the wine. Pan fry with 2 chopped cloves of garlic for two minutes, then pour the wine, heating until it bubble. Turn down to a simmer, cooking the sausage for 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Garlic Mushrooms

Saute 8 ounces of sliced, fresh mushrooms in 2 Tbsp. butter with 3 cloves of chopped garlic for 3 to 5 minutes until almost tender. Then add 2 Tbsp. brandy, salt and pepper. Cook another 3 to 5 minutes, then sprinkle with tarragon at the end.

Seared Potato Wedges

Heat a frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil. Quarter 1 pound of small yellow potatoes in half. If your potatoes are larger, chop into smaller wedges than quartering. In a small bowl, mix 3 tsp. smoked paprika, 1 tsp. cumin and 1/2 tsp. salt. Add potatoes in small batches to the bowl and toss until well-coated. Sear on each side until fork-tender and crispy.

Toasted Coconut Cream Pie

Try this simple recipe from the box of coconut pudding.

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