“Tapas originated in Andalusia, southern Spain, but they are now common all over the country,” Inés Ortega writes in “The Book of Tapas” (Phaidon, $39.95). “Originally a small, free tapa was served with drinks in bars, and it was often a piece of sliced cold meat such as cured ham or chorizo, or a piece of cheese. According to culinary legend, these tapas were used to cover wine glasses to keep the aroma in and to keep the flies and insects out. The word ‘tapa’ originally meant ‘cover,’ a reference to this practice. Nowadays, however, tapas can also be small portions of any of the dishes that make up Spain’s wide and varied cuisine. For example, it is common to find paella being served in small portions as a tapa.”
Tapas, or small plates, are now served worldwide. But the versions you find in Spain still set the standard. One ingredient that you’ll find in many tapas is anchoas, or anchovies, which are used in numerous ways. Some of the recipes that the mother-daughter team of Simone and Inés Ortega use in this book call for fresh anchovies, others call for salt-cured. The recipes linked below all call for canned anchovies, the easiest version to find on our shores. In each of these, the fishes are used to add a richness of flavor to sauces or dressings and won’t be as noticeable as the main ingredients, such as figs or eggplant.
There is always someone vocal in opposition to these salty little treats, but also be aware that there’s at least one anchovy lover in most every bunch. I put out at least one tin’s worth at every party I throw, and the dish never fails to be clean by the end of the party.
If the salt or the oil from the tinning is too much for you, rinse the anchovies in gently running water and dab dry with a paper towel.