Food and drink: Tip your party table to tapas 

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All delicious things Spanish - Spanish wine, Spanish cheese, and, of course, tapas - have permeated the world, especially the New World, for centuries, intermingling with the cuisines of Latin American and teasing us in more northern climes with the essence of Spain. With places like Ferran Adrià's elBulli on the Costa Brava now pushing culinary limits, it's no wonder that gastronomes, along with us regular folks who simply like good food, are rediscovering Spanish cuisine en masse.

With a little flair and not much more work, you can put on a Spanish-inspired feast that will have your friends egging you on - as in the classic Spanish omelette, tortilla Española - for more.

One of the latest trends is to serve up gazpacho in shot glasses as a tapa. Gazpacho, the cold soup originally from the Andalusian region of Spain where it was a popular lunch for field workers, is now being reinvented in many permutations, with beets, cherries and hazelnuts.

But here's a classic recipe to get you revved up, Spanish-style. It's from my former neighbour in San Diego, who grew up in Mazatlan, Mexico, just one of the many areas where the flavours of Spain rule. I've been making it for years, and it always gets a wow of approval.

Olga's gazpacho (Serves 8)

3 lb. (6 cups) fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 onion (sweet or regular, depending on your tastes), cut into chunks

1/2 c. green pepper chunks

1/2 c. cucumber chunks

2 c. tomato juice

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

1/4 c. good olive oil

1/4 c. white wine vinegar

Blanch the tomatoes by pouring boiling water over them to peel them easily. In a blender or food processor, combine the first four ingredients, blend until smooth and transfer to a large soup tureen or bowl. Add the tomato juice, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper. Cover and chill well (best overnight). Before serving, stir in the olive oil and vinegar. Serve cold with garnishes: 1/2 c. finely chopped green pepper; 1/2 c. finely chopped green onion; 1/2 c. croutons.

Many good tapas recipes can be found in The Culinary Institute of America's book, Spain and The World Table , which includes the recipe, below, for perfect sangria. If you take an especially long siesta, and have time to prepare nothing else, a bowl of gazpacho with some toasted baguette slices rubbed with garlic and olive oil, and a glass of this sangria is all you need. ¡ Chin chin !

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