I have such good memories of Old Madrid, fragmented yellow afternoon light poking into the bar from the narrow street outside; standing at a stainless steel bar focused on stabbing mushrooms with a toothpick as they swam in garlicky sauce in a red clay cazuela, the peasant poetry of light red wine poured into a homely, stemless glass with a thick bottom, crusty rounds of bread crumbling under your elbows. Nothing better to do than spend the summer evening exploring more windy streets and more interesting little appetizers.
Whether you’re preparing a cozy tête à tête with something light to nibble on, looking for a simple vegetable dish to round out your appetizers or accompany a meat, seeking something to serve with the aperitif at your next cocktail party, or just want something a bit more befitting your station than Cheese Doodles to nosh on while you watch T.V. with a glass of something, look to Spain, and specifically to the iconic tapas: Champiñones al ajillo or mushrooms in garlic sauce, Spanish-style.
Tapas, for the uninitiated, are small dishes from Spain, used to accompany a post-work, pre-dinner glass of wine, sherry (jeréz), beer or hard cider. They have evolved into an entire food group, a complete culture even, as folks meet at certain bars to nibble on whatever the locale’s specialty is: tortillas, chorizos, shrimp in garlic, croquettes, cured ham…and perhaps stay there, or move on to the next one with a different specialty. Fancy chefs riff on the classics and entire menus are now built around them.
Here in America, they fit right in (and perhaps actually inspired) the small plate dining phenomenon. Who doesn’t love ordering a series of small dishes to share and then ordering a whole ‘nother round whenever there is a break in conversation or everyone wants to linger and have another drink?
During our Christmas bake-a-thon with Marianne and family, eldest son, Sean (my godson from confirmation), and I put this together to go with the lovely cheese, dip, chorizo, and cracker spread that Marianne and I had put out. Admittedly, the mushrooms put us a bit behind schedule on the baking, but it was well worth it.
A couple of these speared on a toothpick make a bite-sized savory treat, perfect for noshing before dinner. They are simple to make and high impact on the table. Note: This recipe uses butter. Oooh rich. Oooh, not for every day! I will be posting one that uses olive oil in the future!
Champiñones al ajillo (Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce)
½ stick unsalted butter
6 Cups whole baby bella or button mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed if they are woody. Otherwise, leave stems on and just trim
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (about 1.5 Tbs)
1 tsp – 1 Tbs red wine (depends how much you can spare!)
2 Tbs parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan at medium. When the foaming subsides, add the mushrooms and fry gently, turning to coat. Fry two minutes covered, then uncovered for about another 8 minutes until softened.
Turn up the heat to medium high, season with a couple of pinches of salt and grindings of pepper. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add red wine and cook until liquid evaporates, about five minutes. The color should be deep brown. Sprinkle the parsley and lemon juice over, adjust seasoning and serve warm, speared on toothpicks.
You may also like:
Three Holiday Tapas (super-simple! includes chorizo, smoked salmon, and fruit with cheese)
Mussels Vinaigrette (perhaps my all time favorite)
Shrimp in Seconds (ultra-versatile!)
Clams and Chorizo (a classic combination)
Make Your Own Spanish-style Mayo (Aioli)