A group of tapas from the northern parts of Spain, banderillas are a constructed of bite-size bits of olives, cheeses, meats, fish or vegetables skewered onto toothpicks. Some cooks think banderillas too simple a concept, but they allow the cook to unleash his or her imagination.
In Spain, tapas are appetizers that cover or accompany a small glass of sherry during cocktail hour. In the USA, they have spread like wildfire, some restaurants and bars specializing in them, some using them as inspiration for “small plates,” appetizer portions of what might normally be a full meal, and still others just call all starters by the name tapas.
A separate group of tapas from the northern parts of Spain, banderillas are a constructed of bite-size bits of olives, cheeses, meats, fish or vegetables skewered onto toothpicks. Named for their resemblance to the colorful darts used in the bull ring, they are the specialty of some tapas bars. To determine the bill, the bartender counts up the empty toothpicks, much like a server of Chinese dim sum counts plates at the end of the meal.
Some cooks think banderillas too simple a concept, but they allow the cook to unleash his or her imagination selecting choice bits and pieces from the refrigerator — a few marinated mushrooms, cubes of cooked potato, slices of cooked sausage, that jar of stuffed green olives. Alone, each of these is unimpressive. Threaded together onto a toothpick in different variations, they create an interesting blend of flavors and colors that can be put together in just minutes.
Everything on the toothpick is meant to be eaten in a single bite, so components are limited to three on a pick. Without formal cooking, they are easily assembled into a colorful plate to take along to a party or put out to ease appetites while the grill heats up.
I’ve listed a few of my favorites, but mix and match is the name of the game. For instance, take the stuffed green olive from one and replace it with a cube of cheese from another until you have a combination of flavors and colors to entice everyone.
And I’ve followed that with some recipes for more traditional tapas if you’re in the mood to cook rather than thread savories. Keep in mind that any leftovers can be threaded on a banderilla the following day.
About 60 pieces
1. Core cauliflower; separate into bite-size florets.
2. Bring large pot of water to a boil; add salt. Add florets; cook for 1 minute; drain; cool under cold water. Dry on paper towels.
3. Sift cornstarch and flour into a bowl. Whisk eggs with 2/3 cup water. Whisk into flour mixture to make a batter. Fold the florets into the batter until coated.
4. Heat oil in a deep saucepan. Add one-third of the florets, frying for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove with slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining florets.
5. Heat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment; arrange cauliflower on it to heat for 8 minutes. Dust with salt; serve with red pepper dipping sauce.
RED PEPPER DIPPING SAUCE
Makes about 3/4 cup
Process all ingredients, making sure to scrape down sides of work bowl, until smooth. Chill until ready to use.
CHORIZO IN SHERRY
Makes 60 pieces
1. Peel casing from chorizo. Cut into slices 1/2-inch thick.
2. Bring white wine and 3/4 cup sherry to a simmer; add rosemary branches. Add chorizo slices in a single layer. Simmer over medium-low heat, until wine evaporates, about 15 minutes. Discard all fat and rosemary.
3. Just before serving, return chorizo to pan. Reheat with remaining sherry. Transfer to a serving plate; pour cooking juices over sausage. Serve with toothpicks and rounds of bread.
WARM MARINATED OLIVES
1. Rinse olives under cold water; pat dry. Pierce each olive 2 to 3 times with sharp knife.
2. Heat oil in a skillet over low heat. Add cumin, anise, peppercorns, and garlic. Cook 3 to 4 minutes until garlic softens. Stir in capers, Tabasco, orange zest and olives. Remove from heat; cool. Refrigerate 2 to 24 hours to blend flavors. Discard peppercorns.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com.