Apparently the next big thing in cooking is South American food, which is my cunning link to bring in Spanish food or more specifically Tapas. Now we all know Tapas as that endless array of nibbles on a Spanish bar or more recently the Tapas restaurants spread around our cities, but is that the real thing?

In a strange way it is as Tapas was invented by bar owners not by chefs, it is food that is intended to make you drink more by being salty and spicy. However the clue to its origins is actually in its name, tapa means, “to cover” and was literally that. The bar owner would put a little cover over the sweet sherry to stop the fruit flies getting in there before you did. It didn’t take long for one bar owner to realise that he could get an advantage over the bar down the street by popping some nice treat on the cover for you to eat, and so a new food style was born more than 400 years ago.

These two recipes are from different regions and are very traditional; as is often the case in old food cultures these are symphonies of balance with each ingredient playing its part. I’m using Serrano Ham but any air-dried ham can be used instead and please don’t miss out the green capsicum as their acidity really works with the sweet fattiness of the pork. Saludos y disfrutar.

Serranitos

This tapa is usually enjoyed around ’feria’ – or festival time – in May.  Its origins are the sierra, or mountains, and it is a simple but delicious combination of flavours, rather like the Italian ‘saltimbocca’ and it too certainly ‘jumps in the mouth’!

Serves 4

1 pork fillet, about 400 to 500g, cut across into 8 slices and flattened with a knife

1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with salt

½ teaspoon sweet Spanish smoked paprika

2 green peppers

10 tablespoons olive oil

8 slices ciabatta, sourdough or baguette, cut on the diagonal

70g thin slices cured ham (jamon Serrano)

Sea salt and black pepper

Method

Rub the garlic, paprika and freshly ground black pepper all over the pork and set aside for a good half hour to marinate.  Halve peppers lengthways and pull out core and seeds.  Cut each half into half again.  Heat half the olive oil in a frypan over a medium heat.  When hot, add peppers and fry on both sides until soft.  Season and set aside.

When you’re ready to eat, lightly toast the bread.  Heat remaining oil in a pan over a medium heat until it begins to smoke; add pork and fry quickly on one side for about a minute and turn over.  Fry for another minute until cooked through but still juicy.  Turn off the heat and season the meat well.  Immediately transfer the fillets onto the bread, followed by the pepper and then the jamon.  Grind on a little black pepper and eat immediately.

Spanish Ham on Tomato Bruschetta

Catalan in origin, bread with tomato and cured ham (jamon) is a Spanish institution.  You can also grate the tomato, mix it with garlic and olive oil and spread it on the bread.

Slices of fresh bread – sourdough, ciabatta or a crusty roll

1 clove garlic

1 ripe tomato

Slices of Spanish air-dried ham

Olive oil

Method

Toast or grill the slices of bread.  While still hot, rub with the clove of garlic until they absorb the flavour and then with half of the tomato.  Add a pinch of salt, olive oil and finally top with the slice of Spanish ham.

Tapas are usually quite salty and spicy so need something that can cope with that, try a Maimai Creek Riesling from the Hawke’s Bay

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