Serious Eats: Recipes

Small Plates: 4 Spanish Tapas That Use Only 4 Ingredients Each

This post is part of our Small Plates series, which is brought to you by California Pizza Kitchen.

Clockwise from top left: Escalivada Catalana, Queso Idiazábal Marinado, Coliflor con Pimentón, Garbanzos con Chorizo. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

With the proliferation of "small plates" restaurants serving what often amounts to complete, multicomponent chef-designed courses in miniature, it's easy to forget where small plates began: simple, intensely flavorful Spanish tapas.

Intended as a cheap way to draw customers into drinking establishments, the most traditional tapas are easy to make, inexpensive, and go perfectly with booze. Nobody wants throwing a party to be a chore, least of all the cook. In that spirit, here are four simple tapas that, asides from salt, pepper, and olive oil, require only four ingredients and are guaranteed to get the mixers mixing and the shakers shaking.

Escalivada Catalana is traditionally made by placing fresh eggplant, peppers, and onions next to the slowly dying embers of a fire overnight, retrieving them from the ashes in the morning, and chopping them together with olive oil and sherry vinegar into a smoky, robust vegetable stew perfect for topping on crusty toasted bread, or serving alongside grilled meats and sausages. This version is made in the oven, but if you've got a grilling bent (and who doesn't have at least a minor grilling bent?), it fares even better over an open flame.

Adding olive oil and aromatics to mildly smoky Idiazábal cheese and calling it a dish is about as lazy as you can get away with being before somebody should intervene and call your mother, but it's delicious nonetheless. There's nothing like a good Spanish sausage, and thanks in large part to their spicy smokiness, Garbanzos con Chorizo has a complex flavor that belies its simplicity. The starchy liquid inside the can of chickpeas helps thicken up the sauce into a stew-like consistency.

Finally, everyone knows Gambas con Ajillo—tiny shrimp cooked in a sizzling cazuela of garlic-spiked olive oil. Well, cauliflower works just as well, if not better. It achieves a nutty sweetness when caramelized, and has plenty of nooks and crannies to soak up the garlic-scented oil.

Nurse, fetch me my porrón of kalimotxo, stat!

About the author: After graduating from MIT, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt spent many years as a chef, recipe developer, writer, and editor in Boston. He now lives in New York with his wife, where he runs a private chef business, KA Cuisine, and co-writes the blog about sustainable food enjoyment.

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