She may be Spain's foremost authority on Spanish food, but when it comes to tapas even Inés Ortega concedes it is difficult to define precisely. "In principle tapas is a slice of bread topped with any ingredients, served hot or cold, and eaten with fingers or a fork. It's something to be done before a meal, but then tapas can often replace a meal. The point of tapas is that you're not locked into a formal meal. There's very little commitment in sampling tapa." The only thing universally agreed on is how it's eaten: "invariably with a drink."
Ortega's latest book, The Book of Tapas, which she co-authored with her late mother, Simone, is a sequel of sorts to her 2007 tome, 1080 Recipes, and features miniature variations of Spain's national cuisine. By whittling down their knowledge to about 250 recipes, the focus is on Madrilenian-style tapas (the Ortegas have always lived in Madrid) which is the most diverse to be found in Spain. "In Madrid the customs, habits and cuisine of the people comes from all over. Even the most remote corners of Spanish culture have become ingrained. It's a synthesis of every type of Spanish food."
If the cultural identity of a country is wrapped up in its food, it's fair to say tapas is more than just a pre-dinner snack. "I believe our climate, the sun, our wine and our character help to elevate the ritual of tapas into a pure delight. Tapas is completely integral to the Spanish culture."
12 fresh anchovies
1kg coarse sea salt
6 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme
Put the whole, uncleaned anchovies in a large dish and cover them with 2 handfuls of the salt, then set aside for 20 minutes.
Once salted, clean them, remove the heads, rinse and dry them. Put the anchovies in a glass jar, layering them with the salt, bay leaves and thyme until the jar is full. The top layer should be salt. Seal the jar hermetically and marinate for at least one month before consuming. Remove the anchovies as needed and rinse off the salt before eating them. Good with toast, spread with butter or oil, and topped with tomato slices and a little basil.
Basque-style tuna belly fillets
4 tbsp olive oil
300g sliced onions
150g green bell peppers long and thin, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 slices serrano ham cut into thin strips
500g tuna belly fillets
fresh red chilli seeded and thinly sliced
balsamic vinegar to serve
chives finely snipped, to serve
salt and pepper
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a pan. Add the onions and pan-fry over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until beginning to brown. Add the green peppers and pan-fry, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and a little salt and cook for 5 minutes. Add the ham strips at the end so they do not cook.
Heat the remaining oil in a skillet or frying pan. Season the tuna pieces lightly with salt and pepper, add to the pan and fry over a high heat, turning several times, until they are pink in the centre, or done to your liking.
To serve, put the chilli in the centre of a warm serving dish, then drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with the chives. Spoon the onion mixture over the top with the tuna fillets. It is important to cook the tuna at the last minute.
Salt cod, orange, onion and olive salad
400g salt cod, not too dry
250ml cold milk
4 large and juicy oranges, peeled and chopped
100g black olives, pitted and halved
4 spring onions, chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white-wine vinegar with 1 tsp sweet paprika dissolved in it
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced or cut into wedges, to garnish
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. To reduce the saltiness of the cod, put it in a roasting pan and roast for about 20 minutes until it is golden brown. Pour the milk over the fish and set aside for at least one hour. Drain off the liquid, then flake the fish, removing any skin and bones.
At least one hour before serving, put the oranges in a serving bowl, followed by the olives, spring onions and flaked fish. Pour the oil, vinegar and water over the top. Season with salt (but remember the fish is salty), then use your hands to gently mix everything together.
Cover the bowl and chill for at least one hour. Serve in the same bowl, garnished with either slices or wedges of hard-boiled egg.
Mussels with garlic and parsley butter
2kg large mussels
175ml white wine
1 shallot, chopped
1 pinch mixed dried herbs
For the garlic and parsley butter:
250g softened butter
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
3 tbsp chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Holding each mussel in your hand with the wide part of the shell near your fingers and the pointed end in the palm of your hand, scrape the shells with a knife and pull off the "beards". Scrub under cold running water and discard any mussels with broken shells or any that do not shut immediately when sharply tapped.
Put the mussels into a pan, pour in the wine and water and add the shallot, dried herbs and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook over a high heat, shaking the pan occasionally, for 4-5 minutes, until the shells have opened.
Remove the pan from the heat and lift out the mussels with a slotted spoon. Discard any that remain closed. Divide the mussels on the half shells, open side uppermost, among 6 individual ovenproof plates.
To make the garlic and parsley butter, beat the butter with the garlic and parsley until thoroughly combined. Using a round-bladed knife, place a little of the flavoured butter on each mussel, covering it well. Put the dishes into the oven for just 3 minutes, until the garlic and parsley butter has melted. Serve immediately.
Saffron rice with clams
4 dozen small clams
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper halved, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tbsp chopped parsley
500g long-grain rice
600ml vegetable or chicken stock
1 pinch saffron threads
Scrub the clams under cold running water and discard any with broken shells or any that do not snap shut when tapped. Put the clams and 4 tablespoons water in a large pan over a high heat.
Cover and steam for 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, or until all the clams are open. Drain the clams in a colander set in the sink and leave until cool enough to handle. Discard any clams that do not open, then discard the open half shells. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a heavy-base flameproof pan over a medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper and garlic and pan-fry, stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes until the onions are softened but not coloured. Stir in the tomatoes and parsley and continue pan-frying and stirring.
Stir the rice into the tomato mixture, then add the paprika and season with salt. Stir everything together to make sure the rice grains are coated, then add the stock and bring to the boil. Stir, cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 12–15 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed.
Meanwhile, toast the saffron threads in a dry pan over a medium heat, stirring, until you can smell the aroma. Tip them into mortar and pound to a powder. Stir the saffron powder and clams into the rice. Re-cover the pan and let stand a few minutes before serving.
175ml sunflower oil
6 garlic cloves, 4 left whole and 2 finely chopped
2 dry chillis, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 chopped onion
4 chopped tomatoes
1 pinch saffron strands
1kg varied fish (monkfish, red bream and squid) cleaned, prepared and cut into bitesize pieces
500g short-grain rice
Heat half the sunflower oil in a shallow heavy-base flameproof pan over a medium heat. Add the 4 whole garlic cloves and the chillis and pan-fry, stirring, until they are browned. Take care with the oil, as chillis burn very easily. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the pan and set aside.
Stir the onion into the hot oil and pan-fry. Add three-quarters of the tomatoes and leave both ingredients to pan-fry. Crush the remaining garlic in a mortar with the saffron and salt, which prevents the garlic slipping, then add a little water. Pour this into the tomato mixture.
Add the fish to the pot with 2.5l cold water and season with salt. Slowly bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and let simmer over a low heat for a couple of minutes, just until all the fish is cooked through. Remove the pot from the heat and gently strain. Keep the fish warm and reserve the cooking liquid.
Heat the rest of the oil in a skillet or frying pan over a medium heat. Add the remaining tomatoes and pan-fry. Add the chopped garlic and the rice and stir around, pan-frying everything together for a couple of minutes. Stir in 1.2l of the reserved fish stock and taste to see if the dish needs seasoning, but the stock should be quite salty. Bring to the boil, then let simmer for about 25 minutes until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed. Let stand for 3 or 4 minutes and serve the rice in one dish and the fish in another.
Octopus with paprika
175ml olive oil
1 pinch hot paprika
To tenderise the octopus it is best to freeze it before cooking. To cook it, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the frozen octopus and cook for about 35 minutes, or until tender. You will need to test it, as the length of time depends on the age and size of the octopus. Drain well and rinse under cold running water. Remove and discard any remaining dark skin and cut the meat into small pieces with kitchen scissors.
Place the pieces in a bowl, pour the oil over them, season with salt, if desired, and sprinkle with hot paprika to taste. Mix well to ensure the octopus is thoroughly coated and serve immediately.
If this is not possible, transfer the octopus and oil to a heatproof bowl, cover with aluminium foil and keep warm in the oven until needed.
As a variation, you can also heat 175ml olive oil in a pan, add 25g roughly chopped onion and 1 garlic clove and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes. Remove the onion and garlic with a slotted spoon and discard. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in sweet paprika to taste. Add the flavoured oil to the octopus pieces, mix well and serve immediately.
Fried green asparagus with garlic, vinegar and paprika
2kg green asparagus, trimmed
6 tbsp olive oil
3 slices of bread, crusts removed
2 garlic cloves
½ tsp paprika
450ml hot water
3 tbsp white-wine vinegar
1 tsp chopped parsley
Cut the asparagus into 4cm lengths. Heat the oil in a skillet or frying pan. Add the bread and cook over a medium heat, turning occasionally, for a few minutes, until golden brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the garlic to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, for a few minutes, until golden brown. Transfer the garlic to a mortar, add the fried bread and pound with a pestle.
Pour the oil from the skillet into a pan and heat it. Add the asparagus and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the paprika, then pour in 450ml hot water. Return the pan to a medium heat, cover and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, for 15 minutes, or until the asparagus spears are just tender.
To finish, add the vinegar and a little of the asparagus cooking liquid to the mixture in the mortar and stir well, then stir into the pan containing the asparagus. Season with a little salt and cook for another 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve at once.
1 lemon, halved
1.5-2kg small, young globe artichokes
2 tbsp lard (optional)
2-4 tbsp olive oil
150g serrano ham, diced
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Squeeze the juice from one lemon half and add it to a large bowl of water. Break off the artichoke stems and remove the coarse outer leaves. Cut off the tips of the remaining leaves. Cut the artichokes in half lengthwise and remove and discard the chokes. Rub the artichokes with the remaining lemon half and place them in the acidulated water. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the artichokes and bring back to the boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes, until tender. (Test by gently pulling a leaf; it should come away easily.)
Drain the artichokes well, turning them upside down and pressing gently. Melt the lard, if using, with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a pan. If not using lard, add 2 tablespoons more oil and heat. Add the ham and artichokes and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve immediately.
Serrano ham with melon mousse
3 leaves of gelatin
3 small melons, preferably cantaloupe, halved
250ml double cream, whipped
12 thin slices serrano ham
salt and pepper
Put the gelatin leaves in a bowl of cold water and let soak for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the seeds from the melons and scoop out the flesh with a melon baller or teaspoon, taking care not to break the skins. Put the skins into the refrigerator, and put the flesh into a blender and blend. Put a small amount of the melon purée in a small pan and warm it through over a low heat. Squeeze out the gelatin leaves, add to the pan and stir well to dissolve. Stir in the remaining melon purée and let it cool.
Whisk the double cream to stiff peaks and fold it into the melon mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the melon shells and put in the refrigerator for 4 hours. Serve each melon half on a separate plate with 2 slices of serrano ham. Serve chilled.
Lentils with bacon and sausages
1 small onion
600g puy lentils
1 carrot cut into 4 pieces
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
250g bacon, in a single piece
12 small sausages
275ml olive oil
Stud the onion with the cloves. Put the puy lentils into a pan, add the onion, bay leaf, pieces of carrot, garlic cloves and bacon and pour in water to cover generously. Cover and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 60-90 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils, reserving the cooking liquid. Remove the onion, bay leaf, garlic, carrot and bacon. Cut the bacon into small cubes and set aside.
Prick the sausages if they have artificial casings. Heat the olive oil in a skillet or frying pan. Add the sausages and cook, turning frequently, for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned and cooked through. Remove from the skillet and keep warm.
Drain off about half the oil from the skillet and reheat. Add the cubes of bacon and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, then add the lentils. Stir well and season to taste with salt. Put the lentils into a warm serving dish, place the sausages on top and serve immediately.
Some people prefer a little more liquid in the finished dish. If so, reserve and add some cooking liquid from the lentils to achieve the desired consistency. It is worth reserving the stock anyway in case there are any lentils left over. They can be puréed in a food processor to make a thick soup, which can be garnished with croutons or a little white rice.
4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion chopped
2 bell peppers (1 green, 1 red) halved, seeded and finely chopped
1 aubergine diced
1 courgette diced
2 ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
Heat the olive oil in a 28cm (11in) skillet or frying pan over a low heat. Add the onion and pan-fry, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes, then stir in the peppers, aubergine and courgette. When everything is browned add the tomatoes, and let cook until the water has evaporated and the mixture has thickened.
Beat the eggs vigorously with a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Increase the heat under the vegetables. Tip in the egg mixture and cook, gently shaking the skillet occasionally, until the underside is set and lightly browned. Invert the tortilla on to a lid of a pan or a plate, then gently slide it back into the skillet, cooked side up. Cook, gently shaking the skillet occasionally, until the underside is set and golden brown. Serve immediately or at room temperature, cut into wedges.
If you have any left over, it is tasty served cold with mayonnaise spread across the top.