Idiot’s Guide to Tapas
Milwaukee author Jeanette Hurt explains eating the Spanish way
We could learn a lot from Spain. As it is, our culture in America is sagging under the consequences of a life made easier by a diet of fast and convenient food.
This includes sending our country’s obesity rates into epidemic proportions, stamping out small businesses, undermining local food traditions and eclipsing the opportunity for quality family time around the dinner table. Written in 1989, the “Slow Food Manifesto” declares that, “We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods… A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.”
Jeanette Hurt, a Milwaukeebased author who has published extensively on
food, wine, cooking and travel, the Spanish take a different approach
to food, and find eating well to be almost as important as breathing.
In The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tapas, Hurt explains how
tapas, a variety of hot and cold appetizers, are integral to the
Spanish style of eating. Spaniards will snack on some tapas to tide
them over between meals, especially between lunch and dinner. And while
it fulfills a practical need for food, the tradition of tapas is also
about fulfilling our social need to connect with friends and family.
Instructional books like the Complete Idiot’s guides
intend to make difficult subjects easier to understand and more
interesting through simple, direct prose and bold visuals. While it
doesn’t take a genius to understand tapas, you don’t have to be a
complete idiot to find benefit in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tapas. Presenting
the material with a personal and engaging perspective, Hurt’s cookbook
is a manageable read that will prepare and guide readers through more
than 100 tapas recipes.
Hurt’s first chapter begins with, well, the beginning. She explains the cultural and historical influences on Spanish cuisine. For example, she tells the story of Roman soldiers planting olive trees on their trek across the Iberian Peninsula and how the Moors are responsible for introducing Spain to spices like saffron, cumin, anise, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper. Hurt also includes the various ideas that surround the origins of tapas and the culinary specialties of seven regions of Spain. Her in-depth descriptions of key ingredients for Spanish tapas, especially her knowledge of olive oil, paprika, garlic, pork and cheese, give readers a solid foundation on which to cook them. Readers have access to valuable cooking techniques that can only come from experience; in this case, Hurt’s.
At the heart
of Hurt’s book is the selection of more than 100 tapas recipes she
accumulated from her travels to Spain and those given to her by
preeminent tapas chefs. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tapas organizes
its recipes into two categories: hot and cold tapas. Within those
sections are recipes for an extensive variety of vegetarian, pork,
seafood and beef dishes and step-by-step instructions for preparing
them. Chef Gregg DeRosier of Anaba Tea Room contributed recipes for
pancetta crostini and Asian duck with tea sauce for the book’s section
on international tapas dishes.
The book’s fourth and final section is devoted to the sweeter things in life: desserts, drinks and parties. Here Hurt shares her expertise on Spanish wine, including sherry and cava, and pairing it with tapas. She even touches on sangria, Spain’s version of punch. Her suggestions for hosting a tapas gathering, including sample menus, prepping ahead of time and plating the special snacks in an appealing display, are especially helpful.
While a bag of drive-thru food is fast and convenient, it hardly stimulates conversation or unites people the way sharing small plates of interesting, carefully prepared and creatively presented food does. We could learn a lot from Spain.