Spanish wines and tapas recipes by Kerstin Rodgers @MsMarmitelover

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If you ever go to Seville – and I recommend it as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with orange scented streets, white horse drawn carriages, and walls covered with blazing pelargoniums – look up Shawn Hennessey who runs tapas tours. She will take you to some hidden gems, which you would be unlikely to find by yourself, little makeshift tapas restaurants in the back room of shops with plywood propped up as a bar. 

My favourite places to eat in Seville were:

  • an old tiled bar with antique shop fittings, there since 1670, el rinconcillo 
  • a more modern (for Spain), 75 year old place called el Bodeguita Antonio Romero run by tall dusky Andalucians with abundant dark curls in crisp white shirts. Ahem.

On an alcoholic level, Spain is best known for Sherry, Cava and Rioja, but there are other wine varieties to discover. Here are a selection of reds, whites and sherries you might like to try, with three tapas recipe to make your own ‘small plates’ dinner at home. Spend on the wine what you save on the food!

Patatas bravas by Kerstin Rodgers
Patatas bravas

Red wines and Patatas Bravas

It’s so hard to get a decent version of this dish in tapas restaurants – the potatoes are either dry or stale or burnt. Thankfully, it’s very easy to make it at home. Traditionally one makes a spicy tomato sauce to drape on top but here I’ve made a version of romesco sauce and added a little Tabasco.

1 kilo potatoes, peeled, chopped into 3 cm squares

Sea salt
Olive oil

For the sauce:

3 large red peppers, grilled, deseeded and skinned
1 bulb of garlic
3 nora peppers, soaked, seeded (can be replaced by mild Mexican chillis such as dried Anchos)
2 tomatoes, skinned, diced
100g salted almonds or ground almonds or hazelnuts or a combination
1 tsp of smoked sweet paprika
50ml of good olive oil
2 tbsp of sherry vinegar

A few drops of Tabasco
Salt to taste

Prepare the potatoes and leave in a colander sprinkled with sea salt for 15 minutes. Grill the red peppers and garlic with their skins on. Place the nora peppers in boiling water in a Pyrex jug and leave to soak for ten minutes. Use this opportunity to skin the tomatoes by scoring a cross on top, then leaving them to soak in the same boiling water for a few minutes. Remove the tomatoes and peel back the skin. Dice.

Once the pepper skin is blistered and the garlic bulb soft, remove to cool. Strip off the skins and deseed the peppers. Squeeze the garlic from the bulb.
Put the red peppers, the roasted garlic, nora peppers, diced tomatoes, the nuts, the paprika, olive oil and sherry vinegar in a powerful blender or food processor and blitz until it forms a smooth paste. This can also be done in a pestle and mortar if you don’t have any kitchen gadgets. Taste and add salt.
Take a large frying pan or a deep fat fryer, heat olive oil (at least 4cms deep) until 185ºc and tip the potatoes in so that they cover one layer. If there are more do it in two batches. 

I don’t usually use olive oil for frying but for this dish I do. It’s worth the extra expense on oil. Fry the potatoes until golden brown, once cooked, lift into a bowl covered with kitchen paper to blot the oil. Then transfer into a bowl and serve with the sauce. 

Red Wine suggestions:

Borsao Seleccion Tinto: £7.95 Dry red. Good value and wonderful with paella.
Bodegas Breigo Crianza: £15.00 From the Ribero region a little further south of Rioja. Tempranillo grape. Heavy red, I drank it with Spanish tortilla and a Catalan calcotada with romesco sauce.
‘Crianza’ is part of the Spanish system of labelling wines by age – a ‘Crianza’ wine is under two years old. ‘Reserva’ means it has been aged for 3 years and ‘Gran Reserva’ has been aged for 5 years for reds and 4 years for whites.
Camins del Priorat, Alvaro palacios £18.00 From Catalan region North East Spain. Heavy, jammy, full-bodied, great with casseroles.
La Vendemia Rioja Palacios Remondo £11.95 Again from Priorato in Catalan.
2013 Monastrell Molino Loco £6.95 From near Alicante, the Yecla region. A lighter, fruitier red with a hint of black pepper.

Spanish wine and Spinach with Chickpeas (Espinacas con Garbanzos)

This common tapa is cooked slightly differently in Seville. Seriously, who knew such humble ingredients could be so magical? Serve with crusty bread and a chilled glass of white wine.
Serves 2
150g bunch of spinach, washed, chopped if big, left whole if baby spinach
300ml water
1 tsp of sea salt
6 tbsp olive oil
3 whole cloves of garlic, skinned
2 slices of day-old bread
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
3 minced cloves of garlic
200g cooked chickpeas (buy good quality Spanish garbanzos sold in jars which are softer than those in tins)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp of vinegar
Rinse and chop the spinach then place in a medium saucepan on a medium heat, containing 300ml of boiling water with salt and a tablespoon of the olive oil to keep it green. Once the spinach is tender, after a minute or two, stir in the garbanzos and turn down to a very low heat. In a small frying pan on a medium heat, add the rest of the olive oil and sautée three whole cloves of garlic. Remove the garlic when browned then add the two slices of bread; fry on both sides until golden and crispy. Remove and in a mortar or a food processor, grind/mash the garlic with the toasted bread, cumin, vinegar (until you get a nice thick paste).
Then add the oil from the pan, minced garlic and paprika to the saucepan with the spinach and chickpeas.
Add bread and spice mixture to the saucepan, stir well and simmer over medium heat for ten or fifteen minutes to reduce broth.

Wine suggestions:

Turonia Rias Baixas £14.95 From Galicia. Needs airing for an hour, it is rather citrussy, before the flavours really come through and then wow! A petrolly taste with apricot and no oak. I would have this with seafood and fish.
2012 Rioja Blanco A & A Martinez Laorden. On sale right now down £2 to £9.95. Quite a bargain for under a tenner. People associate Rioja with red wine, but the whites must be tried. Great even as an aperitif with anchovy stuffed or lemon stuffed olives.

Deep fried stuffed blue cheese olives photo Kerstin Rodgers
Deep fried stuffed blue cheese olive

Sherries and Deep Fried Blue Cheese Stuffed Green Olives

These make a spectacular and tasty canapé in any season, perfect with cocktails or any pre-dinner drinks. This recipe can easily be expanded depending on the size of your party. You’ll find they are a favourite with your guests.
20 pitted green olives 
100g Danish blue cheese
100g plain flour
3 egg whites
175g of breadcrumbs (or make your own by grating 2 day old sourdough in a food processor)
Oil for frying (sunflower or rapeseed)
Roll the cheese into small (approx 5g each depending on the size of the olives) pellets that can easily be slotted into the green olives. If the olive opening is small, poke in the cheese with a cocktail stick.
Then set up a little production line:
  • A dish of flour
  • A dish of egg whites
  • A dish of breadcrumbs
Consecutively dip each olive into the flour, the egg whites then the breadcrumbs.
In the meantime, if using a deep fat fryer, preheat it to 180ºC or, pour enough oil into a small saucepan, approximately 6-8 cm’s deep, to fry the olives.
Carefully, using a slotted spoon,  place the breadcrumbed olives into the heated oil and fry for 3 minutes or until golden. 
Serve immediately with cocktail sticks. does have a few sherries. I’m a huge fan of sherry, thinking that sometimes it goes even better with food than wine, as while it doesn’t contain ‘umami’ as Heston once claimed, it does bring out the fifth flavour in your food. 

Sherry suggestions:

Fino ‘innocente’, Valdespino, Jerez £8.95 Especially when Fino is chilled and it’s a hot day, I could swig this throughout a Spanish meal. Perfect with tapas. Fino is a sophisticated taste, which takes a while to get used to if you are more familiar with the sweet thick fig-like sherries such as Pedro Ximenez, San Emilio, Lustau. Refer to the latter as ‘PX’ if you want to sound knowledgeable. 

What are your favourite tapas? What do you prefer to drink with them? Are you more into wine or sherry?

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