Category Archives: Tapas

Recipes: Meatballs Marinara + Garlicky Kale Bruschetta


Lately, I’ve become the kind of person who’d rather eat a little bit of many things, rather than a lot of one thing. At restaurants, I usually prefer to order two or three appetizers than feast over a big entrée, and I’ve never met a tapas bar I didn’t like. I also find that appetizers tend to be more interesting than main dishes, but that’s just my opinion. How else am I going to get my tuna tartare and caramelized onion pizza and asparagus with a poached egg in one sitting? Food rules be damned, I love to mix and match mini foods into the perfect meal.

At home, it’s a little harder to eat this way, since it requires preparing several different dishes. However, with a little extra thought and planning, it’s totally possible, and I made one such meal the other night.

I used my last bit of ground turkey to make mini meatballs which I seared off before letting them braise in some homemade marinara sauce.

In addition to mini meals, I like mini pots, like this one J bought me last year. Cute right?!
The black kale I’d purchased at the farmer’s market last weekend was going to be part of a farro salad, but I just wasn’t feeling it and remembered reading about an Italian bruschetta made with greens- perfect for a little tapas-style dinner- so I just made my own version of that:

Roasted baby carrots pop up often on my menus because I love how sweet and concentrated they get in the oven:

J uncorked a bottle of Chianti and we enjoyed our multi-mini-meal very much.

Turkey Meatballs Marinara

½ pound ground turkey (lean, not extra lean, works better since it still contains a bit of fat)
½ onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp thyme
Splash of red wine (optional)
3 large basil leaves, chopped
2 TBS chopped Italian parsley
1 slice of bread soaked in ¼ cup of milk
¼ cup grated parmigiano reggiano
Salt and pepper
2 cups of your favorite marinara

Put the ground turkey in a medium bowl, set aside.

In a small pan, heat up a bit of olive oil and sauté the onions, garlic and thyme until the onions are soft. Add a splash of red wine, cook until it is completely evaporated. The onions will be nice and red!

Add the onion mixture, basil and parsley to the turkey; take the bread soaked in milk and break it up with your fingers and add that to the turkey as well, then add the parmesan, salt and pepper. Incorporate all of the ingredients with your hands.

Make the turkey mixture into 1 or 2 inch meatballs. Heat up some olive oil in a pan and sear the meatballs on all sides. Once they are brown, add the marinara, turn the heat down to low and let the meatballs simmer in the marinara for about 10 minutes. If the marinara is too thick you can add a bit of chicken broth, red wine or even water to thin it out a bit.

Garlicky Kale Bruschetta

1 TBS olive oil
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
A pinch of red pepper flakes
1 bunch black kale, ribs removed, chopped
Salt, pepper
Splash of balsamic vinegar
6 slices of multigrain bread, baguette, whatever bread you like, brushed with olive oil and toasted.

Heat the olive oil in a pan on low heat, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the oil. Don’t burn the garlic, but let the warm oil infused with the flavors for about 2 minutes.

Add the kale to the pan and toss with the oil/garlic/flakes. It will wilt pretty quickly. Add salt and pepper to season. When the kale is nice and wilted, add a splash of balsamic, stir again. The balsamic will reduce very quickly. Turn off the heat.

Top each slice of toast with a mound of the kale mixture. Enjoy!

Tasca Wine Bar

Disclaimer: I suck at taking photos in dark restaurants so please excuse the fuzzy photography!

I rarely eat dinner out west of Los Feliz, which automatically leaves out many of this city’s best restaurants. I wish I felt more motivated to make the drive from my Eastside home, but my love of wine and non-love of a DUI pretty much keep me close to home. Call it lazy, call it lushy, call it whatever- it’s something that, as a food lover, I’m a little embarrassed to admit and I spend way too much time trying to find new restaurants to hit on the Eastside instead of driving the 10 extra miles to go anywhere beyond Silverlake.

Well, a visit to Tasca Wine Bar has changed all that- not only because I must return multiple times to that establishment, but also because it ignited the motivation to get off my butt and explore another area of town.

Tasca………..where do I begin? For frequent readers (all three of you) of this blog, my love of small plates and tapas is a familiar theme throughout Tuna Toast. I almost always prefer to share a few appetizers than to order one main plate of food for myself. I am on the constant lookout for fantastic hors d’œuvre or inventive mini foods on menus and have been constantly disappointed at the lack of anything resembling a tapas bar near my home. Vertical Wine Bistro is one of the few shining examples, but there’s only so many times one can go to the same place each week.

Ok, back to the review. Tasca Wine Bar is located on West 3rd street in the cluster of many beloved restaurants. We walked in and were immediately struck by the cozy atmosphere and friendly staff. There’s a long bar and the instant I laid eyes on it I knew I wanted to sit there instead of at a table. We took two seats at the near end of the bar and looked over the menu. Ah, the menu………..I couldn’t have written a more Tuna Toast Fantasy Menu myself. Lots of small plates dominated the menu and J and I spent quite a bit of time trying to narrow it down to a non-gluttonous number. Our friendly bartender poured us some prosecco, we finally put in our order and waited for the tapas parade to start as we munched on thinly sliced bread dipped in pungent olive tapenade.

We started with the ceviche, which came nestled on a bed of micro arugula and topped with a generous slice of avocado. J took one bite and immediately stated that he loved it. It was perfectly balanced and with just the right amount of acidity and not a hint of fishiness. It was mild, mellow and the perfect way to whet our appetites for the dishes to come.

Next came the Gambas Al Ajillo- sautéed shrimp in garlic sauce. Six large shrimp came swimming in a pink-hued sauce that just demanded bread to sop up all it’s delicious garlicness with. All I can say is that this dish should be on every tapas menu in the city. Savory, perfectly cooked and just mouthwateringly, bowl-lickin’ good.

Our next dish was courtesy of our bartender who, when I ordered the Croquettas de Pollo (chicken and bacon croquettes, romesco sauce), recommended that I get the Arancini (wild mushroom risotto fritters, truffled sauce) instead. She was so confident that we’d be blown away by the arancini that we obliged, and thank goodness we did. Two perfectly round, deep fried balls of risotto came out and they were heavenly. Light and creamy on the inside, they were what I had hoped my dense and unflavorful risotto balls I had made a couple weeks back would taste like. The only downside is that now I dream about them.

The Moules Frites were good, but we didn’t find them to be anything special. J wasn’t keen on the fries which he found to be not of the skinny, shoestring variety which often come with mussels. Being a fan of anything deep fried and salty, I munched on a few but wanted to save my room in my stomach for the next course.

We ordered one thing off of the specials menu- handmade gnocchi with a rabbit ragu as well as a couple glasses of red. The gnocchi were light and airy pillows of soft potato pasta- I just love homemade gnocchi and they are so much better than the store bought variety. The rabbit ragu suffered slightly from too much salt, but we polished off the entire plate anyway.

Wanting to end the meal on a sweet note, we had the chocolate mousse. Dense yet airy at the same time, the dark chocolate concoction caused J and I to once again display our gluttony as we pretty much scraped every last bit of it from the glass. The tawny port J ordered was a nice compliment to the bittersweet dessert.

So here I am, writing about this a few days later and I feel a tinge of heartbreak that such a restaurant doesn’t exist near my house. Don’t get me wrong- Tasca will be visited again and again by yours truly- but I live between two areas (Eagle Rock and Pasadena) that need a place like this. I’ve pretty much given up on Old Town with its chain restaurants and yogurt shops, but maybe Eagle Rock could be the birthplace of a truly good tapas and wine bar? I hear rumblings of something in Echo Park so there’s hope, but I would love nothing more than to see a few more of these kinds of places pop up on the Eastside.

Speaking of tapas- I am leaving for my very first trip to South America in a week. We will be in Bogota, Buenos Aires and Santiago. If anyone has recommendations – tapas bars specifically—I’d love to hear them!

Tasca Wine Bar

8108 W. 3rd St.

Los Angeles, CA

323 951 9890

Tapas Party

It’s been awhile since I really rolled up my sleeves and got cooking, so I used one of the years most boring and unentertaining reasons to get a few friends together. If you guessed Emmys 2008, you just won your category. Unfortunately I didn’t realize just how brain-numbingly dull this year’s telecast would be (save for a hilarious bit by genius Ricky Gervais and his American counterpart Steve Carell) before we had to actually sit through it. Had I known I would have changed it to a Sunday Night Football viewing party since the game would have been way more exciting.

I recently got a book called Wine Bar Food, and although I didn’t really use any exact recipes from it for my party, I took a lot of inspiration from it and decided on a finger-food-only menu. Personally, I love going to restaurants with a friend in tow and ordering a few appetizers- they almost always seem more interesting to me than main dishes. It also gives me a chance to sample several different tastes, textures and preparations without getting too stuffed. I wonder if chefs need to make appetizers more interesting since they are the smaller, less-famous items on any menu and can’t stand up and be bold alone like a porterhouse steak or king salmon could. Whatever the reason, I love small bites packed with flavor and had a lot of fun creating several tapas-style dishes for my friends.

I did most of my prep the day before- seasoning the baby lamb chops, making the porcini risotto then creating balls with it, whipping up a batch of the always-trusty Batali tomato sauce (with an extra touch of a few squeezes of anchovy paste), and lightly blanching and shocking some vegetables for my crudités platter. After roughly slicing up some Japanese eggplant, yellow squash, sweet onions and zucchini I tossed it all with herbes de provence and whole garlic cloves and slow roasted it all together. A few pulses with the food processor and an addition of marinara turned it into a ratatouille spread which topped some soft goat cheese on toasted crostini. The day of the party I simply whipped together a white bean dip with cannellini beans, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and Italian parsley and tossed together some panko, olive oil, garlic and parsley to top off some littlenecks I got at Bristol Farms. Thank god I asked the fish monger there to shuck them for me- I had it in my head that I could give it a go but after watching his face turn bright red trying to force those suckers open, I was happy I didn’t.

For dessert I just plopped a hunk of soft, silken tofu along with a bar of melted 72% dark chocolate, 1 TBS cognac, the zest of one orange and a bit of powdered sugar into my Cuisinart, processed until smooth and poured the mixture into five small glasses. You’ll be surprised but I guarantee you that silken tofu + melted chocolate makes wonderful vegan desserts- and I don’t make them because they’re vegan, I make them because they are all fast, easy and incredibly rich.

I think the clear winner in the food category was the lamb chops, with the clams coming in a close second. Ironically those two dishes were the simplest to create. Trader Joe’s has gorgeous little Frenched racks of baby lamb and all I did was trim more of the fat off (there was quite a lot), season overnight, sear and finish off in the oven. I had some salsa verde left over from the Summer Squash Gratin (from the brilliant Lucques cookbook) that I made for my dad’s retirement party which went well with the meat. The clams involved topping each with the breadcrumb mixture and a dab of butter, then baking. Hard, I know, but someone has to do it right?!?!

To make the evening a bit more interesting I had everyone fill out an Emmy ballot, and my friend T ended up taking the prize of five mini bottles of various types of booze. So congrats T! Hope you and your mini bottle of Limoncello continued the party at your place!