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Tap into tapas, says CASA's Maria Broadbent

Cooking and eating together is a tradition and a necessity that spans the globe. Sharing food is sociable; I remember as a child when we had large family Sunday lunches all the vegetables, gravy and trimmings would go in the centre of the table. Then there were the parties, which my Dad would invite friends and family ad hoc to! Mum would fill buffet tables with all kinds of 70s and then 80s party fayre. For as long as I can remember I would be in the kitchen wanting to ‘help’! I can still knock up a good vol-au-vent and my devils on horseback rarely make it out of the kitchen.

This sharing of food and the cooking from scratch has ultimately led me to CASA. Creating the menus for CASA, testing the dishes, sourcing the ingredients excites me – probably more so now than when it all began.

The structure of having to leave a menu in place for several months with minimal tweaks at times feels restrictive. It does however ensure consistency of service. The solution for me is a series of specials, plus putting on foodie (and wine) evenings. I am planning for a Spanish evening next week and have just spent all afternoon on my day off scouring resources.

Tapas (12623440)
Tapas (12623440)

I always love tackling new recipes or, in most cases, creating a hybrid of my own. The proud owner of more than 200 recipe books plus endless ‘cuttings’, I can while away hours. It isn’t just the ingredients though, it’s the history and the people behind the food that also intrigues me.

Spanish food by its very nature is rustic, jam-packed with flavour and very satisfying. There is no point being timid when cooking tapas. That doesn’t mean you can be heavy-handed though. Once it is served, it is there for everyone to dive in with hunks of bread the dips, juices and sauces – don’t be shy!

Tomatoes, garlic, peppers, potatoes and onions are staples, add some meat, fish and a good glass of vino or a chilled Spanish beer and all is well with the world. What would a traditional Spanish tapas evening generally consist of?

Here are some of the less eccentric dishes which have fairly mass appeal.

Starting with cold/ambient dishes that you

can prepare well ahead:

Jamón de Serrano – like Parma ham but with a slighly drier texture as it is cured for longer.

Chorizo – slices of a pork ‘salami’ made with pork, garlic and smoked paprika.

Olives – these can be the large Gordal green ones, I like the ones with baby gherkins and pickled onions in (we add rose harissa, fresh rosemary and garlic to ours).

Manchego cheese – this is a ewe’s milk cheese that can be bought in three different stages, I buy the middle one (semi-cured) as this has good flavour, but is not too hard.

Membrillo – a delicious traditional Spanish quince jelly, served with cheese and almonds, or it can be used to make sauces/glazes. It is also cracking with a glass of quince gin and tonic.

Spanish tortilla – this is a potato and onion thick omelette, well seasoned and served at room temperature.

Boquerones – marinated Spanish-style white anchovies with garlic and fresh parsley – not brown and salty, I promise.

Aioli – proper garlic mayonnaise, I usea mixture of olive oil and rapeseed oil, plus I add lemon.

Then comes the picky hot tapas:

Chorizo al vino – soft spicy cooking chorizo, slow cooked in red wine with shallots and bay leaves

Padron peppers – Freshly pan-fried small Spanish green peppers with sea salt (they used to say these are like Russian roulette with 1 in 10 knocking your socks off – I am yet to find one).

King prawns – cooked simply with garlic, chilli, white wine and lemon or how about, for a change, gambas con garbardinas, quite literally prawns in overcoats (batter).

Albondigas – Spanish meatballs made with pork and beef, gentle spices and served in a delicious tomato soup. The recipe is available on youtube COOKCASA.

Cerdo – Pork, cooked in so many ways as pinchos (little skewers) or slow-roasted belly with spices till it melts in your mouth.

Potatoes – the two most well known ways are patatas a la pobre (poor man’s potatoes) cooked with peppers and onions. The other is patatas bravas, which translates as brave potatoes because of the kick in the tomato sauce.

Chicken – spicy skewers or in stews, chicken is probably not as prolific as pork nor fish, but it takes flavour well and is very popular on our menu. I am trying a spicy jerez sauce next week with sesame seeds on the fried chicken.

Garlic mushrooms – simply pan fried with garlic and chilli, with garlic and cream or a dash of dry sherry complements the earthy flavour of the funghi.

A few salad ideas to go with the above:

Ensalada de habas a la hierbabuena –a broadbean, mint and Serrano ham salad.

Ensalada Russa – a classic Spanish tapas that got a dodgy reputation back on those 70s buffets when prised out of a tin. However, when made with fresh ingredients such as green beans, peas, carrots, potato and onion enveloped in a light homemade mayonnaise this is a lighter alternative to a potato salad.

Carrot, orange and pine nut salad – classic Spanish touches of orange and pine nuts to make this clean fresh little salad with some watercress leaves for contrast.

If this all seems like too much hard work – come and sample all of the above on the June 25!

Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds.

Tel 01284 701313.


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