Cooking for One
Cooking for One: Tapas-Inspired Appetizers
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The idea of appetizers for one sounds a little silly: What would I do, pass an hors d'oeuvre tray from one hand to another?
Silly or not, at the end of a long workday, I'm so cranky from hunger (what I like to call "hangry") that I need something to snack on quickly while I'm cooking. Otherwise I cannibalize dinner ingredients as I go, turning something like shrimp in tomato sauce over linguini into a multi-course non-meal of shrimp followed by tomato sauce followed by linguini, each element lonely and relatively tasteless without the others.
People with more self-control than I are able to have a fantastic array of cheeses awaiting and can just pull out some crackers and olives to go with them. I can't, really, and I've learned that lesson the hard way: by starting to snack on some aged Vermont cheddar only to finish the entire wedge, no matter how big it is. And then I cook and eat dinner anyway.
No, what I've needed is something vibrant, sharp and satisfying, not binge-inducing. I thought of the tapas bars in San Sebastian, Spain, where you have one or two pinchos (named for the toothpick sticking through them) and a tiny glass of beer or wine, then move on to the next spot for more grazing.
I decided to draw on my favorite tapas. It's tomato season, so when I got home from work one night I sliced off a hunk of rustic bread, toasted it, then smeared it with a garlic half and then a ripe cut tomato, rubbing the tomato flesh right into the toast, the way they do in Catalonia for pan con tomate. A little olive oil and salt, a couple of anchovies, and I had a great meal starter. Another night I pulled out some cauliflower I had started marinating a few days earlier and snacked on a half-cup of that while I rummaged through my pantry for meal inspiration. Another time I remembered a fantastic bruschetta I had made for a dinner party, so I concocted a batch of sweet-and-sour peperonata, then nestled it on top of a smear of ricotta on toast.
It hit the spot, taking the edge off my appetite without spoiling it. Once I wasn't so hangry, I could focus on cooking, without cannibalizing.