Tapas. Merende. Meze. Merienda. Antipasto.
Whether it be Spain or Portugal, Italy or Greece, France or Turkey — throughout the Mediterranean, these countries have the delightful tradition of small plates and in-between meals. More and more I’m finding that I enjoy eating this way, in contrast to the traditional American dinner plate with the triumvirate of a Protein, a Starch, and a Vegetable. This post shares some examples at home and eating out that illustrate the joy of “small plates”.
Select Oyster Bar, Back Bay, Boston
I often have a small meal now at a restaurant on Monday nights, to avoid the crushing heavy traffic of the drive home. Last week I went to this superb oyster bar in Boston, and I had 3 small plates making a delicious meal. I sat down in a small corner window seat and started with a little antipasto of just 5 raw oysters, accompanied by a glass of a French Chablis. Next, I dove into a plate of a Romanesco Cauliflower with a Toasted Hazelnut Aioli dressing. To complete the evening, I ate a bowl of spicy small clams with Spanish chorizo.
The second glass of Chablis fit well with all the dishes. I also love the trend of the way such restaurants offer excellent boutique wines which complement the food. Many places provide several choices of volume in each glass. This permits trying several different wines in small amounts, and then driving home — still sober.
Barcelona Wine Bar, Cambridge
A similar Monday night story took me to a tapas and wine bar in Cambridge. The first time there I had to small tapas plates, (1) Spinach and Chickpea Cazuela and (2) Grilled Pulpo (octopus) with Cannellini Beans. I ordered 2 different Spanish wines (each 3 oz. pours), so I could match each plate best.
I was back there a week later for two new dishes, Blistered Shishito Peppers and Mushrooms A La Plancha and a glass of red wine from Uruguay — all very good. I especially liked the mushrooms.
Pasta Dishes at Home
We don’t need to go out to enjoy these kinds of meals. Here are two evenings where a pasta dish provided the same satisfaction.
One of the best meals was Pasta alla Norma, a Sicilian eggplant standby which I have made quite often in the past. However, recently I was able to locate this recipe from a chef in Catania. It was featured in an episode of Stanley Tucci’s “Searching for Italy“, and it’s the best I’ve found yet.
Fortunately, I had a bottle of Sicilian Etna Rosso from Quantico, a very good match in both taste and location with Pasta alla Norma.
On another night I was able to make a Baked Pasta dish with cheese, leftover vegetables, and our own dried breadcrumbs, which is always gratifying. It was accompanied by a small salad dish of julienned purple daikon radish, red onion, tomato and fresh basil.
Uncommon Ingredients on Small Plates
Eating at home also offers opportunities to experiment with unusual ingredients. The small scale and privacy enable me to screw up a little meal and not disappoint anyone else. I had two such experiences in October. Fortunately, they both turned out well. The first was with quail eggs, a real novelty. We had read about a local schoolgirl who raised quail and was selling eggs from a stand outside her home. We tried them the first time a month earlier, with positive results. Here was another combination, worth repeating.
Another dish was even more unusual — Burdock Root. I had attempted to use it once before, with little success in texture and flavor. This time was different. I found a recipe online and made a small plate of Burdock Root Jorim, a Korean dish with good flavor and visual appeal.
My only disappointment is that I have no clue what wine to choose with this small plate.