The best Labor Day celebrations involve getting outside, enjoying good company, and savoring not just the fruits of labor, but the fruits of this special season as summer fades and fall beckons.
My traditional Labor Day celebration is an all-day paella party, preceded by a parade of tapas. We start in the early afternoon. As shadows move across the patio, we talk, nibble, and sip. Around 5 p.m., I fire up the grill and cook paella. No matter how many tapas we’ve eaten, everyone has room for the main dish.
Spain, the home of tapas, has many tales about the origin of these pre-dinner bites. Some attribute their invention to various kings who, depending on the king and the story, ate only small morsels of food to improve ailing health; tried to keep workers from total inebriation by insisting they have food with their wine; or wanted to keep sand and flies out of a drink by covering the glass with a piece of bread with a tasty tidbit on it—the literal translation of tapa is “cover” or “lid.” In all three versions, tapas constitute an early form of health food.
Spanish cooks often use seasonal fruits in savory appetizers to provide flavor and texture without being filling. Fruit pairs well with rich, salty foods like smoked fish, ham, and cheese. Many of my Labor Day tapas feature the fruits of early September—grapes, melons, figs, and the last of the summer peaches and berries.
No matter what you grill for Labor Day—or even if you grill nothing at all—these simple bites provide an excuse to prolong your party and the summer.
Each recipe serves 4 as a first course or 10–12 as part of a tapas array.
All recipes by Cathryn Domrose
Smoked Fish and Fruit Pintxos
In the Basque region of Spain, tapas are called pintxos (pronounced “peen-chose”) and are often served on toothpicks. The server tallies the bill by counting the toothpicks.
One or more kinds of smoked fish, such as salmon, sturgeon, or halibut
Assortment of berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, and small strawberries
Red and green grapes
Grape tomatoes or small cherry tomatoes
- Cut smoked fish into bite-size pieces.
- Thread fish onto toothpicks, folding if necessary, alternating with grapes, berries, and tomatoes. Use two or three pieces of fish per toothpick.
- Arrange pintxos on a serving platter, sprinkle with pepper, and squeeze lemon juice over them.
Prep time, 10 minutes.
Serrano Ham with Melon
Jamon serrano, a Spanish dry-cured ham, looks like prosciutto but has a slightly drier texture and richer flavor.
¼ pound serrano ham, thinly sliced
1 small green melon, chilled
Grapes and mint for garnish (optional)
- Wash the melon, cut it in half, and remove seeds. Leave the rind on and cut it into 3-inch wedges.
- Slice the melon flesh away from the rind, but leave it in the rind for serving.
- Drape pieces of ham over the melon wedges and chill. Serve on salad plates, garnished with grapes and mint, if desired.
- Alternately, cut melon flesh into 1-inch cubes and remove from rind. Drape ham slices over a serving plate and pile the melon chunks in the middle. Serve with toothpicks.
Prep time, 10 minutes.
In Spain, gazpacho is traditionally made with ripe tomatoes, stale bread, and olive oil. This peach version skips the bread for a lighter but still satisfying appetizer.
1 celery stalk
½ small onion
¼ red bell pepper
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 ripe peaches, sliced
1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar
⅓–½ cup white or rosé wine, white grape juice, or water
¼–⅓ cup olive oil (optional)
Chopped toasted almonds, chopped mint for garnish (optional)
- Dice carrot, celery, onion, and pepper. Sauté vegetables in 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat until tender, about 8 minutes. Add salt and vinegar. Let soak a few minutes.
- Put vegetables, peaches, and wine, juice, or water into a blender and purée until smooth. Add more wine or water if too thick.
- For a richer gazpacho, slowly add optional olive oil with blender on low and continue blending until emulsified.
- Taste and adjust seasoning—you may need to add more vinegar and salt, depending on the sweetness of the peaches and the liquid.
- Chill for at least 3 hours. Serve as tapas in demitasse cups, shot glasses, or liqueur glasses, or in bowls as a first course, garnished with mint and chopped almonds.
Prep time, 20 minutes; chilling time, 3 hours.
Warm Figs and Cheese
Valdeon, a pungent Spanish blue cheese, is my favorite for this recipe, but any blue cheese will work. For those who aren’t fans of blue cheese, try fresh goat cheese or cream cheese.
10–12 ripe figs
¼ pound blue cheese, at room temperature
Red and gold raspberries
- Preheat oven to 475°F.
- Stem figs and cut in half. Arrange in a baking dish.
- Bake for 10–15 minutes, until heated through.
- Smear tops of figs with a dollop of cheese and top with a berry. Serve warm.
Prep time, 5 minutes; cook time, 15 minutes.
Orange and Olive Salad
This sophisticated fruit salad can be part of a tapas assortment or accompany a grilled main course.
4 medium oranges
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar
⅓ cup sherry
¼ cup golden raisins
20 black dry-cured olives, pitted
10 Spanish green olives (can be pimiento-stuffed)
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar or lemon juice
6 tablespoons good quality olive oil, preferably Spanish
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, lightly toasted
¼ cup raw almonds
Sprigs of fresh mint
- Put sliced onion in a small bowl, toss with sherry or red wine vinegar. Set aside.
- Peel oranges with a knife, cutting away the white pith. Slice fruit crosswise into ¼-inch slices, arrange slices on a platter, cover and refrigerate.
- Heat ⅓ cup sherry to a simmer and pour over raisins. Let stand for at least 20 minutes, then drain.
- Blanch almonds in boiling water for a minute, remove skins, and chop fine.
- Slice green olives in half; leave black olives whole. Chill all garnishes until ready to serve.
- Just before serving, whisk together raspberry vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Scatter olives and onion over chilled oranges. Spoon dressing over salad and sprinkle with raisins, sunflower seeds, and almonds. Garnish with mint.
Prep time, 20 minutes; chilling time, 2 hours.
Cathryn Domrose has written about science, health, and fitness for more than 20 years, most recently for Nurse.com, a national publication for nurses. She lives and cooks in San Francisco.