Like the antipasti of Italy and mezze of Greece, tapas are small plates of food enjoyed as a leisurely first course, or even eaten instead of a main meal. The word tapas comes from the Spanish tapar, "to cover," referring to a slice of bread or meat laid across a glass of sherry or other wine.
Create a fun, innovative meal by displaying an assortment of salty, savory dishes, warm and chilled foods, and a variety of crisp, chewy and soft, succulent textures. Roasted almonds, olives, cheese, bread and seafood--sardines, anchovies, tuna, cod--are standard fare.
Start with a colorful array of marinated olives, marinated red peppers and hot and spicy pecans. (To make it more traditional, substitute Marcona almonds for the pecans, and Pimenton, smoked paprika, for the chili powder.) Spanish sheep's milk cheeses, such as Manchego, are commonly served with dried fig cake or Membrillo, a thickened, sliceable quince jelly. Serve breadsticks (picos) or crackers. Lavosh--a crisp flatbread--is Armenian, not Spanish, but it is a perfect accompaniment on your tapas table.
Many dishes can be made ahead of time and served at room temperature or chilled.
Once your guests have taken the edge off their hunger, reawaken those appetites with these hot delicacies. (Note: Bacalau must be prepared 24 hours in advance.)
In addition to dry (Fino and Manzanilla) or medium-dry (Amontillado) sherries, offer cold pitchers of sangria and chilled Spanish or Portuguese white wine (Vinho Verde).
If you choose to make a meal of tapas, finish off with individual custard cups of Spanish Flan or any of these sweet ideas: