A feast of tapas is a wonderfully easy and relaxing way to catch up with friends at home. Spanish chef Jose Pizarro is happy to offer advice.
WHAT TO BUY
The beauty of tapas is that it's based around simple, good quality ingredients that require little or no preparation. Buy some great bread and serve thick slices with olive oil or homemade aioli. To make a quick pane con tomate, rub a clove of garlic over warm toast, drizzle with some olive oil, slice a tomato in half and rub the open side over the bread.
Create a welcoming platter with Spanish manzanilla or gordal olives, add a jar of roasted peppers and some sundried tomatoes, thin sliced chorizo, a bowl of Marcona almonds and perhaps some chunks of Manchego cheese.
HOW TO CHOOSE JAMON
Central to every tapas feast is jamon - beautiful air dried hams, thinly sliced and served on a warm plate to soften the fine ridge of fat before eating. If you want to find out what quality jamon you are eating, you must ask what type of pig the meat came from, what the pig has been fed, what part of the pig has been used to make the ham and lastly the way the ham has been cured.
Serrano ham comes from several breeds of white pigs that are fed mainly cereals and are cured for six to 18 months. It's easy to find at most supermarkets and a lot cheaper than iberico ham.
Iberico comes from the Iberian pig that is bred in southwestern Spain, with the finest being jamon iberico de bellota, which means the pig is fed on acorns and is cured for up to two years. Jose explains "it is like a good wine, when you put the meat in your mouth the fat melts and the sweet, salty and nutty flavour stays on your palette for a long time."
WHAT TO MAKE AT HOME
Once you have those simple recipes mastered try adding a light chicory salad with paprika and manchego, some empanadas, meatballs in a tomato sauce or Jose's recipe for sea bream with an orange salad.
If you like doughnuts then you'll love the Spanish version called churros, long ridged pieces of sweet dough, fried and sprinkled with sugar that come with a hot chocolate dip. How can you resist? You can also indulge in some other typical Spanish desserts including crema catalana, rice pudding and orange and almond cake.
But for Jose, his favourite dessert "is a good scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with a tablespoon, or two, of sherry." You can't go wrong with that!
WHAT TO DRINK
Jose is unequivocal "sherry is a match made in heaven" for tapas and there are plenty of varieties available. Manzanilla sherry is dry, pale in colour and delicately flavoured, this is best served with nibbles. A medium-dry Amontillado is a golden colour, has a warmer taste and goes well when matched with chicken, strong cheese and oily fish. Oloroso is darker and has a strong nutty flavour making it a perfect partner to red meats and rich game dishes. Finally there is Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez, both of them sweet and syrupy and brilliant with desserts and cheese courses.
So invite your friends over and dazzle them with your own Spanish fiesta.
Don't forget to take a look at all of our tapas recipes