As promised, here is my first experiment with a tapas dish from my new cookbook, “Tapas: the little dishes of Spain” by Penelope Casas.      Champinoñes al Ajillo is a simple and hugely flavorful vegetable dish that I made twice  – Daniel insisted on an encore.  We had this alone one time as it’s own side-dish and ate it as a topping for a steak-night the second time and we thought it worked equally well each way.   Mushrooms are not super filling so don’t lean on this as the centerpiece of your meal, unless you’re making up a full tapas course!  I had to buy a new spice for this meal that I am now enamored by, smoked paprika.

I never was a fan of paprika and always thought of it as a color-additive or general “bulk-adding” item in say “Bam!”.  Not very flavorful but throw a pinch on a bland looking casserole to give some visual contrast kind of option.  Often left out of dishes as a useless additive otherwise.  Come to find out, there is supposed to be a flavor to paprika!  To make sure that I wasn’t dreaming up my  notion I went and did a taste-test of my own paprika.  On a scale from 0 (no valuable flavor added) to 10 (jam-packed can’t miss it flavor) I gave my regular paprika a 3.  Just to be nice but really only deserved a 2.  I could taste a flavor raw and I read the flavor is supposed to increase with heat. The flavor I tasted was well…you know those “Garden Vegetable” flavored chips?  Yeah, that’s the closest identifiable flavor I could come up with.  A sort of vegetable, earthy aftertaste, after the chalky texture went away.  Not impressive.  I may never buy regular paprika again after tasting the smoked variety.  Ten+ on my scale, can’t miss, instant POP to whatever, even in small amounts.   Why haven’t I heard of this sooner?   Paprika is made from the powdering of bell or chili peppers, depending on the type of pepper used, the flavor should could range from mild to spicy.  When the pepper is smoked as part of the drying process then a smoky flavor is present.  Heavily used in Hungarian cooking, high in vitamin C and a beautiful red color, paprika has been around a long time.   At the grocery here, all I have seen is the regular or smoked variety but at a specialty market like Dorn’s in Gainesville, they import more varieties from Spain and other places.  (I should do a whole post on Dorn’s in Gainesville, they are awesome)  In fact, I will give them a little plug here – Dorn’s Liquors is located in the Thornbrooke Plaza on 16th in Gainesville.  While they have a large and impressive selection of wine, beer and liquor, they also have a collection of imported and specialty foods.  Locally roasted coffee beans, a large selection of cheeses, dried meats and pate, imported olive oil, balsamic vinegar, spices and indulgent chocolates plus a knowledgable staff to help you along make this my favorite shopping stop.  Support the local small business that offers more genuine, quality products in one shelf than all of the “ethnic” aisle of Publix.   OK.  Enough of the shop-talk, let’s get to it!

Messy Ingredients:

  • 3 TBS fruity olive oil (I reduced by half)
  • 1/2 lb mushrooms, cleaned and cut to 1/4″  (I used “Baby Bella” mushrooms) * remove large stems if using large mushrooms
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 TBS dry Spanish sherry
  • 1/4 cup veal or chicken broth (I used chicken)
  • 1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/2 medium-hot dried chile pepper, seeded and crumbled or 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher or sea salt to taste
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 TBS parsley

Heat the oil until very hot and fry the mushrooms and garlic on high heat for 2 minutes. Lower the heat and stir in the rest of the ingredients (except the parsley).  Simmer 2 minutes until the mushrooms are soft, sprinkle with parsley and serve.  (is this easy or what!)  Remember, this is a tapa dish, so it is small.  If you want leftovers double this recipe, it reheats well.

The olive oil may be more than Dr. Dukan would prefer but other than that I say it’s Dukan Diet Worthy Phase 2 or higher.  Very good both alone or topping a good filet of beef, but I’m sure you can’t go wrong on chicken or pork here either.  Enjoy!

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