Tomatoes are the rabbits of the lunch world. They can be pulled out of your hat and added to just about anything found in the bottom of the fridge and, wallah, lunch! In this case an exotic lunch, a kind of tapas. As you probably know, tapas originated in Spain, and is a selection of small dishes drunk with wine.
Tapas Dish No 1 consisted of a couple of tomatoes, bought at our local farmers’ market; the first of the season, warm and red and ripe, sliced into discs. Beside them on the plate I laid the cucumber that had escaped yesterday’s salad. I like my cucumbers sliced lengthways. A sprinkling of salt and pepper, a splash of olive oil. Wallah!
Then I took out of the crisper the half a packet of baby spinach leftover from a wave of guilt. I’ve just been informed by my housemate that the bottom of the fridge is commonly called the crisper. I popped the spinach into the microwave for a full three minutes. It wilted even more dramatically; the ‘crisper’ hadn’t exactly lived up to its reputation. But, with the addition of a microwave, a little salt and pepper and a splash of olive oil, wallah! Tapas Dish No 2.
Now I don’t believe that you can call a meal tapas if it consists of less than three dishes. Then it’s just spoiling your appetite.
So I decided to break open the box of water crackers, usually reserved for guests and a dip, and laid six of them on a dish. If you are wondering why six; it’s a serving, according to the instructions on the box. It’s knowing this kind of guidance is available at my fingertips that gives me the confidence to experiment in the kitchen.
To accompany the crackers I took, from the place in the back of the fridge where I had carefully secreted it, the block of parmesan that is usually reserved for pasta. A certain amount of subterfuge is required when it comes to storing parmesan, because there are people who believe that parmesan can be eaten at any time. These people are in the habit of crumbling rather large chunks of this expensive killer onto a plate and eating it, with or without guest crackers. But today, in the name of tapas, it was I who crumbled rather large chunks of parmesan onto a plate. And wallah! Tapas Dish No 3.
Note: As of going to print, no proper name for the place that I hide the parmesan, has been volunteered. Interesting that the bottom of the fridge is the ‘crisper’ but the back of the fridge, is just the ‘back of the fridge’?
I set the table: a simple place mat, a fork, a napkin and my three little dishes. But there was something missing. And then I remembered the derivation of the word tapas, from the Spanish for ‘covering.’ Ask any old Andalusian and they’ll tell you that when sitting in a tavern in summer, warding off the heat with a sticky sherry, you have to cover your glass with pieces of bread or meat to keep away the flies.
Fortunately, there was no sherry in the house, so I poured myself a glass of wine. The wine was already open. We had quaffed it with our spag bog the night before. A day of airing had not improved its taste. Mental note: keep a store of wet cardboard as an alternative.
It was a 2002 Shiraz from the Barossa. Yes, a 12 year old wine. The label suggested that it would be at its best at 10 years. What a pity I hadn’t walked into the bottle shop two years ago. But then it probably wouldn’t have been in the specials bin.
I’m one of those people that love the specials bin. It’s like being a kid at the lucky dip. You close your eyes, stick your hand in and pull out treasure, even though everybody else pulls out some product of child labour. Perhaps if I had kept my eyes open and actually looked at the label, I might then have also noticed the cork. But then again, I haven’t seen a bottle of wine with a cork for about ten years, so the chances of recognising it were always going to be slim.
So as I mixed the bog into the spag my housemate said, “It’s a cork! Do we even have a corkscrew?” And the adventures began. You’ve probably had this dilemma yourself. You search the cutlery drawer, an obvious place. Then you rummage through the utensils, check the pantry, buttery and larder; nothing. You run out to the car to check the glove box, in vain. You wonder what your chances of finding a neighbour with a cork screw actually are. Finally you remember your ruck sack from uni, which you’ve been meaning to take to the op shop. You climb into the attic, and judging by the level of exertion required, and the amount of dust inhaled, it’s been a lot longer than ten years since you’ve seen a bottle with a cork. With the equivalent effort of diving to the bottom of Marianas Trench, you recover the bag. And surfacing through the flotsam and jetsam of a thousand forgotten days, wallah! A corkscrew. And the cork is released from the bottle with that sigh that only a cork coming out of a bottle can make.
So I poured myself a glass of last night’s wine and settled down to my tapas lunch; stealing a few moments out of my own sticky day to toast those old Andalusians for their ingenuity.