To start this new feature with a flourish, I invited round the godfather of Spanish cooking in the UK, José Pizarro. He has three beautiful tapas restaurants in London, is a regular on BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen and has written four brilliant Spanish cookbooks.
I spent the morning preparing two of José’s recipes and getting nervous. He arrives and is instantly handsome, charming, funny and gracious. He hugs me and gives me a big bottle of olive oil and some wine. It couldn’t be going better…
Emma: I’m making a legendary gazpacho for the legend who created it. This is weird.
José: My mother made this. She never let me cook in the kitchen when I was a child; she would shout, ‘you go away from here’. But I knew all about the flavours and smells. This dish is so simple.
Emma: Everything just goes straight into the blender.
José: Almost. Blend all your vegetables now and when it’s smooth, add the olive oil very slowly. It’s the oil that makes it thick and creamy. And you need to ‘final finish’ it with some little strips of jamón ibérico.
Emma: I bought two different packs because I didn’t know which one is better.
José: One is organic, but the other one is from a producer I know and trust. I’d rather use that. I believe in teaching people to go behind the label to find out who is making it. It’s the best ham in the world, and it is expensive, but when you know what is behind the jamón, you can see why.
Emma: You’ve had such an impact on Spanish food here. I don’t even think you could buy this ham in London 20 years ago.
José: When I arrived here it was just paella, sangria, tortilla, patatas bravas. It was sad. I love all those dishes, but Spanish food is more than that, and people didn’t understand the base of our cuisine, which is the ingredients and the freshness. Everyone knows Italian food is all about amazing ingredients – great tomatoes, basil, fresh pasta – and it’s the same with Spain. Our ingredients are everything. So my focus was to change the thinking by telling people the history behind the ingredients.
Emma: So what’s behind this jamón ibérico?
José: 150 years of tradition. I know how this farmer treats the animals, how much work has gone towards keeping the pig happy for 22 months, why the best jamón takes three or four years to make and tastes absolutely amazing.
Emma: I have had a brilliant idea for a FINAL final finish. Shall we put some vodka in it?
José: No. I am from Spain – let’s add dry sherry. Salut.
Whole roasted cauliflower with anchovy sauce
Emma: Do you ever get sick of your own cooking?
José: No. Even after a day in the restaurant, I get home and I cook for myself.
Emma: This is one of your signature dishes. Whole roasted cauliflower with anchovy sauce. (I remove the cauliflower from my oven – half of it is burnt. Silence.)
Emma: I’ve burnt it.
José: We don’t call that burnt, it’s caramelised.
Emma: And here is your sauce. The recipe said eight salted anchovy fillets – these came from a Spanish deli and there were lots of bones.
José: So you need to fillet them – you get two fillets per fish.
Emma: Ah. So I’ve used… 16 fillets then.
José: Did you put in the bones as well?
Emma: Ah. Yes. (Silence. Again.)
José: It’s gonna make it taste amazing. I’ve never used the bones before but it’s gonna be great. (Already I love this man.)
Emma: What brought you to the UK?
José: The diversity – of people, of food. There’s so much more in London. In Spain 20 years ago, there was no diversity at all. Everyone did nothing wrong – it was white, and square – and the restaurants were all Spanish food with Spanish wine. I need diversity, to see different things and different ideas to keep me alive. So I moved to London.
Emma: And did you find it?
José: I found it. I love it. Around the corner from my home there is a Turkish shop, and an Asian one, I can go to them and choose amazing ingredients. I need to learn from different cultures, and I have friends now from all over the world. I need to meet different people. Diversity is how I learn.
Emma: My hands smell of 16 anchovy fillets.
José: In the Basque country, the old ladies who peel anchovies say rubbing toothpaste on their hands is the only way to get rid of the smell. (We eat.)
José: You know what, the bones give it flavour.
José: I’m going to do it like this from now on.
See the full recipe for José’s whole roasted cauliflower with anchovy sauce.
Emma’s Spanish fig & sherry cake
Emma: I invented a cake for you, in your honour.
Emma: Unfortunately, it’s gone horribly wrong. It’s a Spanish cake, so I used figs and some Pedro Ximinéz sherry.
Emma: But in a moment of insanity, I used half a pot of coconut oil instead of butter.
José: That is not very Spanish.
Emma: What was I thinking? I’ve never cooked with it before. I’m sure it’s a good ingredient sometimes, but in a Spanish fig cake, it’s disgusting, I’ll never do again. I’m so sorry. You don’t have to try it. Do you ever use coconut oil?
José: For massage. My fiancé uses it every night before bed on his face.
Emma: Maybe we’ll just have coffee.
José: Espresso, please.
Quick-fire questions with José
Favourite starter: I always start a meal with Cinco Jotas jamón ibérico.
Favourite main course: My mother’s goat stew with fried potatoes.
Favourite pudding: I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I do always like to finish my meal with a little bit of chocolate. My recipe for chocolate pot with olive oil & salt is amazing.
Worst dish you’ve ever cooked: It was my first chocolate cake and I made it at my brother’s house. It was a disaster. The blender broke and the cake mix ended up on the ceiling.
The one piece of kitchen equipment you love the most: My pestle and mortar, great for sauces and aïoli. I use it all the time.
Guilty food pleasure: Fish and chips.
Favourite alcoholic drink: A glass of fino sherry before dinner. And I have my own brand of chardonnay and a shiraz from a wine producer in Andalusia.
Favourite cookbook: All of Claudia Roden’s books.
Favourite restaurant: I love going to different restaurants. I recently had a lovely lunch at the Portuguese restaurant Londrino in London.
Four famous people to have around your table for a perfect dinner party: I would like to cook for Maria Callas and Pablo Picasso, and then have music afterwards from Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucía and singer Camarón de la Isla.
Read more articles by Emma Freud…
This roast cauliflower dish, plus more of José’s recipes, are in his cookbook, Catalonia: Spanish Recipes from Barcelona and Beyond, out now (£25, Hardie Grant)