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Pack up a picnic of Spanish tapas to feed a crowd

This chorizo and potato omelet is an ideal anchor for a Spanash tapas menu for eight. The herby garlic carrots in smoky sherry vinaigrette provide a tart counterpoint. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS) 1 / 2
Smoky sherry vinaigrette is the ideal foil for super-fresh vegetables from the farmers market. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS) 2 / 2

Snibbles, we call them in our house. Snacks and nibbles combined.

Tapas, they call them in Spain. Small bites of satisfying flavors to enjoy with a beverage of choice. Sparkling lemonade for the young ones; beer, spiked wine and cocktails for the rest of us.

I enjoy having tapas in place of a traditional meat-and-veg meal anytime. Perhaps it's the relaxed way everyone hangs around the table, lingering over food and drink. Perhaps it's the conversation that gets livelier the deeper we get into the beer and wine stash. Perhaps it's the fact that most small-plate snacks can be made in advance, so the cook relaxes.

Dining with friends at Las Golondrinas, in Seville's Triana quarter, we nearly inhale small plates of the most stunning seasonal vegetables, along with local fish tapas, platters of artisanal cheeses and a variety of Spanish hams. The warm evening sparks an idea: Tapas make perfect picnic fare. They epitomize outdoor summer goodness.

I first enjoyed one of Spain's most iconic tapas dishes, tortilla espanola, a rich potato omelet, a decade ago when seated at the counter at Cal Pep, a favorite tapas bars in Barcelona. This spring, we happily stood in a queue for the small restaurant to refresh our memories.

First, we studied Cal Pep's method for another Spanish classic, pan con tomate (tomato bread): Split and toast a crusty bread roll, smear with oil and cut garlic, then smoosh a red ripe tomato over the cut surface of the bread. Add drops of fruity Spanish olive oil and a dramatic sprinkle of coarse salt. OMG good.

We ate the delicious bread slowly while watching the cooks assemble the sliced Spanish chorizo and oil-cooked potatoes for our omelet. Beaten eggs get ladled into the skillet over the sausage and potatoes. The omelet gets flipped to cook both sides to golden perfection with a nearly creamy center. Finally, the omelet is slid onto a plate and smeared with garlicky mayonnaise. New memories form with each bite.

At home, I make a version within reach of most by using fully cooked chicken chorizo and Yukon gold potatoes. The tricky part is flipping the semi-cooked omelet. Use care and work in a small nonstick skillet to minimize trouble. Serve the omelet warm or at room temperature. I also like it cold topped with dressed lettuces and sliced tomato.

Immediately after tasting salmorejo, the thick and creamy rendition of chilled Spanish gazpacho served to us in Granada, we added it to our summer entertaining menu. When tomatoes are in season, I keep a glass jar of the soup in the refrigerator for the ultimate summer refresher. Tote it in a cooler along with a small container of garnishes to enjoy at the beach or an outdoor concert. Serve the soup with rosé wine, a wedge of manchego cheese and crusty bread.

Super-fresh farmers market carrots, beets, mushrooms and radishes transform from humble beginnings into gorgeous tapas offerings when lightly marinated in a sherry-and-smoked-paprika vinaigrette. The vegetables can be made a day or so in advance. Let them come to room temperature for the fullest flavor.

To pack up your tapas picnic, put everything into attractive, shallow containers with tight lids. Line two trays with parchment paper, and arrange assorted cheeses on one tray and thinly sliced hams and salamis on the other. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap for transporting. Refrigerate everything, and then pack in coolers with ice packs.

For this summer's sangria, I marinate berries and orange in Spanish rosé wine. To make a sparkling cocktail, I top off the spiked wine with apple- or berry-flavored kombucha (I like the Pink Lady Apple version from Health-Ade). The kombucha adds a light sparkle and cuts the sweetness. Use club soda for bolder bubbles.

I also tote along a bottle of Spanish olive oil and a shallow rimmed bowl to pour it into, along with a basket to hold crackers and sliced French baguette. Bring plenty of small plates, wooden picks and forks for eating. Add a cooler of chilled beer, ice cubes and tall glasses for the sparkling sangria. Then enjoy a night of nibbling and good conversation under the stars with friends.

Spanish Tapas Menu for 8

Thick and creamy tomato gazpacho (salmorejo)*

Toasted bread spread with crushed tomatoes, olive oil and salt

Carrots, beets, mushrooms and/or radishes marinated in smoky sherry vinaigrette*

Chorizo and potato omelets*

Skewers of cooked shrimp sprinkled with olive oil and herbs

Assorted olives

Platter of sliced or cubed assorted cheese, such as manchego, a blue cheese and a soft goat cheese

Platter of very thinly sliced hams and salamis, including Spanish Iberico ham

Basket of sliced baguette bread and plain crackers

Spanish olive oil in a bottle with a pour spout

Sparkling berry rosé sangria*

Assorted beers

Smoky Sherry Vinaigrette

Prep: 5 minutes. Makes: ¾ cup

Toss vegetables — such as carrots, beets with onion, mushrooms or radishes (see below for prep) — in this vinaigrette, then let them stand to absorb the smoky flavor.

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

3 to 4 tablespoons sherry vinegar, or red wine vinegar, or a combination

2 small cloves garlic, crushed

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme

Put all ingredients into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well. Refrigerate covered up to 1 week. Use at room temperature.

Nutrition information per tablespoon: 81 calories, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 0 g protein, 98 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Herby Garlic Carrots

Prep: 15 minutes. Cook: 5 minutes. Marinate: 30 minutes. Makes: 8 servings as part of a tapas menu.

1 pound (about 10) skinny carrots with leafy tops

¼ cup smoky sherry vinaigrette, see recipe above

Salt

½ teaspoon minced fresh tarragon, optional

1. Trim off and set aside carrot tops to use as a garnish. Lightly peel the carrots, then slice crosswise into ¼-inch thick coins.

2. Heat a saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add carrots; cook uncovered until crisp-tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 5 minutes. Drain.

3. Put warm carrots into a small bowl, and add vinaigrette; toss to mix well. Add salt to taste. Stir in tarragon if using. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes or so. Serve garnished with a teaspoon or so of finely chopped carrot greens. Or, refrigerate up to 2 days; serve at room temperature.

Beets and onion: Substitute 1 pound small beets for the carrots. Trim and peel the beets, then cut in half through the stem end. Cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges. Cook as directed, increasing the time to 10 minutes. Toss the drained beets with 1/4 cup thinly sliced white onion and the vinaigrette. Season with salt. Let stand 30 minutes or so. Makes 6 servings as part of a tapas menu.

Garlicky mushrooms: Substitute 1 pound small cremini or button mushrooms for the carrots. Cut mushrooms in half and place in a microwave-safe bowl with 1 clove garlic cut into fine slivers and 1 tablespoon water. Cover and microwave on high (100 percent power) for 2 minutes. Drain well. Toss mushrooms with 2 or 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette while warm. Season with salt. Serve garnished with fresh thyme leaves. Makes 6 servings as part of a tapas menu.

Marinated radishes: Trim the ends from 1 pound small radishes. Put into a bowl, and add 2 or 3 tablespoons vinaigrette and coarse salt to taste. Let stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Nutrition information per serving: 61 calories, 4 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 g carbohydrates, 2 g sugar, 0 g protein, 84 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

Chorizo and Potato Omelets

Prep: 20 minutes. Cook: 30 minutes. Makes: 4 omelets serving 4 (or 8 as part of a tapas menu)

The cooks at Cal Pep make individual Spanish tortillas (a type of omelet) flavored with Spanish chorizo and potatoes. Substitute fully cooked diced ham or thinly sliced andouille or kielbasa sausage, if desired, for the chicken chorizo.

4 or 5 medium-size yellow potatoes (1 pound total), scrubbed

Extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

½ medium onion, very thinly sliced

6 to 7 ounces fully cooked chicken chorizo sausage, very thinly sliced

8 large eggs

¼ cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika (pimenton)

Garlicky mayonnaise or chopped fresh herbs

1. Cut potatoes into ½-inch dice and put into a microwave-safe bowl with 1/2 cup water. Cover with plastic wrap vented at one corner. Microwave on high (100 percent power) until potatoes are fork-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and cool.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil; add onion. Cook and stir until onion is tender and slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add chorizo slices and potatoes; cook and stir to blend flavors, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. For each omelet, whisk together 2 of the eggs, 1 tablespoon of the broth, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon paprika in a small bowl. Add a quarter of the potato mixture and stir well.

4. Set a small (6- or 7-inch) nonstick skillet over medium heat until it's hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle on contact. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan, and swirl to coat the pan with the oil. Gently pour the egg-potato mixture into the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Lift the edges of the eggs as they cook to allow the liquid egg to run underneath. When most of the liquid is set, use a spatula to smooth the mixture into an even layer. Let cook, moving and shaking the skillet until the top surface is set but still quite moist, about 3 minutes.

5. Run a silicon spatula around and under the eggs to be sure nothing is sticking. Then set a plate just slightly larger than the skillet over the skillet. Very carefully invert the omelet onto the plate. Reduce the heat under the skillet to low and add a little oil if the pan looks dry. Slide the omelet back into the skillet with the cooked side up. Cook over low just to set the eggs, about 1 or 2 minutes more.

6. Once again flip the omelet onto a plate. Repeat to make three more omelets, wiping the pan clean between each before adding oil.

7. Serve the omelets warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges. Garnish with a dollop of mayonnaise, or sprinkle with herbs. Omelets can be made 2 days in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.

Nutrition information per serving (for 8 servings): 231 calories, 14 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 208 mg cholesterol, 14 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 11 g protein, 524 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

Thick and Creamy Tomato Gazpacho (Salmorejo)

Prep: 15 minutes. Chill: 1 hour or more. Makes: 4 cups (8 servings)

A high-powered blender makes quick work of this soup. If using a food processor or regular blender, be sure to run the machine long enough to make the mixture absolutely smooth. You can substitute a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes for the ripe tomatoes, but be sure to read the labels; for the freshest tomato taste, choose those packed without citric acid or calcium chloride.

1½ cups panko breadcrumbs

1 cup water

1½ pounds (about 6) small, round, ripe tomatoes — cored and roughly chopped

1 Anaheim or cubanelle pepper, halved, seeded, roughly chopped

2 or 3 small cloves garlic, halved

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar

1 to 1¼ teaspoons salt

Garnishes: Chopped hard-cooked egg and/or diced prosciutto ham

1. Put half of the breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup water into a blender jar. Add half of the tomatoes, pepper and garlic. Puree until absolutely smooth. Then add half of the oil in a slow steady stream while the blender runs. Transfer to a bowl, and repeat with the remaining breadcrumbs, water, tomatoes, pepper, garlic and oil.

2. Season the mixture with the vinegar and salt. Chill thoroughly. (The gazpacho will keep refrigerated up to 2 days.)

3. Serve chilled in small glasses garnished with the egg and/or ham. Pass spoons.

Nutrition information per ½ cup serving: 149 calories, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 2 g sugar, 2 g protein, 320 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

Sparkling Kombucha Berry Rosé Sangria

Prep: 10 minutes. Chill: several hours. Makes: 6 servings

For sangria, choose a rosé wine that is slightly fruity and not too pricey. The vermouth is optional, but I like the bitter qualities it adds to this rather sweet cocktail.

1 bottle Spanish rosé wine

½ cup orange liqueur, such as Cointreau or triple sec

½ cup sweet red vermouth

¼ cup simple syrup

1 cup thinly sliced, small, ripe strawberries

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries

¼ small orange, very thinly sliced

Ice cubes

Apple- or berry-flavored kombucha, or plain club soda

1. Mix wine, liqueur, vermouth and simple syrup in a glass pitcher; add fruit. Refrigerate until very cold.

2. Serve over ice, and add a splash of kombucha or sparkling water.

Nutrition information per serving: 240 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 28 g carbohydrates, 21 g sugar, 1 g protein, 11 mg sodium, 1 g fiber