Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Spanish Brunch

Menus inspired by Spanish tapas are ideal for breakfast and brunch and you probably already know tapas make great cocktail party fare.  What I like about a Spanish brunch is that most of it can be prepared ahead, like Italian antipasti, so host and guests can enjoy a leisurely morning.  This mix and match menu works well for vegetarian and meat-eating guests as well as picky younger eaters.  Here’s the menu:

Spanish Tortilla 
(egg-based torte with potatoes and parsley)
Spanish cheese platter with Jamon Serrano and Fresh & Dried Fruits
Meson Mushrooms
Pan Tomat
Patatas Bravas (fiery potatoes)
Assorted Pastries
Cava or Sangria
Orange Juice, Coffee, Tea, Hot Chocolate

Spanish Tortilla
Spanish tortilla, closely related to the frittata, is the brunch centerpiece.  Infused with potatoes, onion, parsley and sometimes  chorizo sausage,  it can be made a day ahead.  If you are not confident making one yourself, you can easily make it as a frittata by making a big egg scramble that is finished in the oven instead of flipped pan to pan in the old style to finish it.  Or if you have a Spanish restaurant in town, order one or two and reheat them.  (You can even order one from LaTienda.com.) 


Tortilla tastes good hot but is very at home room temperature or just warmed through.  Slice the round torte the classic way—in bite-sized squares and serve with toothpicks or slice into wedges like a quiche or pie. 

Another way to get the flavors of Spanish tortilla is to bake mini crustless quiches in large muffin cups or 1/2 cup ramekins.  For each mini-tortilla  combine 1 egg, 1/4 cup diced boiled potatoes, two tablespoons chopped onion sautéd in olive oil and a teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley.  Add a bit of salt and pepper and pour into well-oiled muffin cups.  Bake in a 325˚F oven for 15 minutes until egg is cooked through (not jiggly as in quiche).  Don’t skimp on the oil in the muffin cup since it is part of the tortillas’ distinctive flavor and will allow the mini-tortilla to slip out easily. 

If you have unsalted potato chips in the house, follow famed Spanish chef Ferran Adrià's method (popularized here by Chef Jose Andres) and replace the cooked potatoes with lightly crushed chips.  Let the mixture sit 10 minutes before baking to allow the eggs to soften the potato chips.   Ever since I tried this method, it is my go to tortilla ingredient.  

Spanish Cheese Platter
A platter of ham and cheese is an easy accompaniment now that Spain’s Jamon Serrano (dried ham) and Manchego cheese are widely available.  Chorizo sausage is also a good fit on a platter if not used in the tortilla.  Be sure to get the cured type that requires no cooking.  Set out small bowls of olives and Marcona almonds and garnish the platter with dried or fresh figs.  Fresh sliced cantaloupe would not be out of place here also.

Meson Mushrooms
I learned to make grilled mushrooms the Spanish way by watching the grill master at a meson (tapas house) beneath the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.  He would not give out the recipe but I think I got the gist of it pretty well via many enjoyable repeat visits.  Meson mushrooms are simply grilled mushroom caps with a chunk of cured chorizo in the center cavity.   When they come off the grill, finish them with a good squeeze of lemon juice and fresh parsley.  Don’t skimp on the parsley. And make sure it is fresh not dried. The herb is much loved in Spain and once you taste it in tortilla and meson mushrooms you will appreciate the terrific pop of “green” flavor it brings to more subtle egg and mushroom dishes.   These mushrooms can be prepped ahead and baked instead of grilled in a 400˚F degree oven for 12-15 minutes.  Finish with lemon juice and parsley as with the grilled version.

Pan Tomat
Pan Tomat is a specialty of the Barcelona and the Catalan region of Spain.  Guests can prepare these themselves from a shared plate.  Set out slices of lightly toasted rustic bread, halved fresh garlic cloves and halved small tomatoes.  Guests rub the garlic and tomato over the rough surface of the toast (warm or room temperature) to infuse the bread with a light, fragrant coating of juice and pulp.  Full flavor extra virgin olive oil is drizzled on top.  Be sure to use a Spanish olive oil for a robust olive flavor in these dishes.  You may be lucky enough to have a wide selection in your market but if not, I like Goya extra virgin olive oil for most Spanish dishes.  Pan tomat is Spain’s answer to garlic bread and it goes perfectly with tortilla and platters of ham and cheese.

Patatas Bravas
Of all the items on the menu, this one may show up again at your next Super Bowl party.  These are for every hash brown and steak fry lover in the house.  They get their name from the spicy tomato-based dipping sauce.  Use small new potatoes or larger ones cut in quarters and halves. First boil a batch until just tender.  Drain and toss with olive oil then roast in a hot oven (alongside the mushrooms) turning occasionally until all sides are crisp.  Serve lightly salted with a simple tomato sauce (not marinara) and a  shot of hot sauce.  (If you’d like a sweeter version, mix ketchup with hot sauce.)  Make them as hot as you and your family likes.  The potatoes can also be dipped in a good mayonnaise spiked with sherry vinegar.

Beverages
Any combination of the list below will match the meal:
Cava (Spain’s sparkling wine)
Orange juice
Sangria—white or red
Hot chocolate, coffee, tea

Fruits
Oranges—sliced on a platter
Sliced cantaloupe
Dried fruits

Pastries
Churros are fried tubes of dough rolled in sugar and are sold on street corners in Spanish cities.  They are beginning to be seen here but the pre-packaged ones are not fresh tasting.  An alternative is to pick up fresh donuts.  Cream-filled ones are very Iberian but small donut holes coated in simple cinnamon sugar are also a good (and lighter) choice. 

New Year’s is a nice time to throw an impromptu cocktail party or a brunch.  Or perhaps a leisurely breakfasts with just family.   Happy 2011^