‘Spain is much more than patatas bravas’: José Pizarro’s summer recipes

<span>José Pizarro’s prawn pil pil tortilla. Food and prop styling: Polly Webb-Wilson.</span><span>Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer</span>
José Pizarro’s prawn pil pil tortilla. Food and prop styling: Polly Webb-Wilson.Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

When José Pizarro first arrived in the UK in 1999 seeking to expand his horizons as a chef, he found a country in a benighted state of ignorance as far as Spanish food was concerned. “People were confusing jamón ibérico with parma ham,” he says with a shudder. “Everyone thought it was all just patatas bravas and sangría. I like patatas bravas and sangría, don’t get me wrong, but Spain is so much more than that.”

Fortunately, the public were eager to learn and Pizarro, who grew up eating his mother’s “simple but amazing” food in Extremadura, made it his mission to spread the word. He worked at several Spanish restaurants, including Brindisa, where he was executive chef. Then, in 2011, he opened two restaurants of his own on Bermondsey Street, south-east London: a tiny tapas bar named José and the larger Pizarro, both smash hits. Five more restaurants followed in London, Esher and Abu Dhabi, all temples to his native cuisine, with more on the way. At the same time, he has been championing Spanish food on TV, in six cookbooks, and at festivals and industry talks. In March, in recognition of his “extraordinary services to Spain”, Pizarro was awarded the officer’s cross of the Royal Order of Isabella the Catholic by the Spanish ambassador in London. (His mum, in attendance aged 90, was “very happy” about it all.)

Not bad for a boy with concentration issues from a small farming village in western Spain. Pizarro admits he wasn’t a great pupil, unable to focus on anything for more than a few minutes, unless it involved food or animals. He was on the brink of becoming a dental technician in Seville when a cookery course diverted him into hospitality. His parents were dismayed but Pizarro – who says, “I have ADHD. I’m dyslexic” – found that the pressures of kitchens, where there are “always so many things going on”, helped him focus.

A head chef position in Madrid soon followed, and then his move to London where he has thrived for the past 25 years. Rare among empire-building chefs, he is yet to close down any of his restaurants in spite of Brexit, Covid and other pressures. What’s his explanation? “I want people to have a good time, to come out happier than when they went in,” he says. It has also helped that he operates without backers telling him what to do – part of the funding for his first restaurants was raised by selling his shares in Brindisa; the rest came from four other business partners whom he subsequently bought out.

Later this summer, Pizarro will open a third restaurant on Bermondsey Street, called Lolo. Meanwhile, he’s writing two more cookbooks and hosting culinary tours at Iris Zahara, his villa in southern Spain. “I don’t get much sleep,” he admits. “It’s my own fault. But I’m happy. The train passes only once, my friend, and definitely you have to take it.”

The effort seems to have been worth it, with Pizarro acknowledging that attitudes towards Spanish food have changed in Britain since he began championing it a quarter century ago.

“People now understand that Spain is many different countries in one,” he says. “Spain is not just ‘go to the beach’. It is thousands of years of history with so many different cultures mixing together and bringing their food and ingredients with them.”

Prawn pil pil tortilla

A proper Spanish tortilla is always a little oozy in the centre, so take it out of the pan before it is fully set.

Serves 2 (or 4 as a tapa)
olive oil

onion 1 medium, finely sliced
red-skinned potatoes 400g, peeled and finely sliced
saffron strands a tiny pinch
free-range eggs 4 large
extra virgin olive oil 75ml
garlic 2 cloves, finely sliced
chilli flakes a good pinch
smoked pimenton a pinch
raw prawns 200g
flat-leaf parsley 2 tbsp, finely chopped

Heat the olive oil in a 18-20cm non-stick frying pan, then add the onion and potatoes and cook very gently for 10 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender.

Pour 1 tablespoon of hot water over the saffron and let it stand for 5 minutes, then beat it in a jug with the eggs and plenty of seasoning. Drain the potatoes and onion (reserve the oil), and while still warm toss together with the egg mixture.

Next, add 2 tablespoons of the oil back to the pan and, over a medium heat, pour in the egg and potato mixture. Jiggle until it starts to set around the edges then reduce the heat to low and cook for 5-6 minutes until it is almost but not quite set.

Meanwhile, heat the extra virgin olive oil in a second pan over a low heat and gently infuse the garlic, chilli flakes and pimenton for 3-4 minutes.

Invert the frying pan and tip the tortilla on to a flat board, then quickly slide it back into the pan – it might ooze a little, but don’t worry as it will reform once you get it back in the pan. Place back on the heat and, with a spatula, tuck the edges of the tortilla back under themselves to create the classic rounded edge. Continue to cook for 3-4 minutes more.

Increase the heat of the pan with the infused extra virgin olive oil to medium high, add the prawns and cook until they are pink all over (this should take 2-3 minutes). Add the parsley and season.

Turn the tortilla on to a plate, spoon over the pil pil prawns and serve.

Summer pisto with golden manchego and crispy fried egg

Serves 4
olive oil 60ml, plus extra to fry
aubergine 1, diced
red onion 1, finely sliced
garlic 2 cloves, bashed
courgettes 2 medium, green and yellow if you can, chopped
red pepper 1, chopped
cherry tomatoes 300g, halved
fresh thyme 4 sprigs
lemon finely grated zest of 1
sherry vinegar 2 tbsp
free-range eggs 4
flat-leaf parsley a small handful, finely chopped

For the manchego
manchego 250g, cut into cubes (or vegetarian manchego, if you prefer)
plain flour 2 tbsp
free-range egg 1, beaten
panko breadcrumbs 100g
olive oil 300ml, to fry
honey 1 tbsp

Heat the oil in a saute pan or shallow casserole and, on a medium heat, fry the diced aubergine for 10 minutes, turning occasionally until it is lightly coloured and has released the oil back into the pan.

Add the onion and continue to fry on a medium heat for 5 minutes until softened, then add the garlic, courgette and pepper. Fry for a further 5 minutes, then add the cherry tomatoes, lemon zest and vinegar. Season well and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes: the tomatoes will relax and soften, creating the juice.

Meanwhile, dust the manchego cubes all over in flour. Dip the cubes in the beaten egg then coat them all over in panko.

Next, heat the oil in a small deep pan to 170C and fry the cubes of cheese a few at a time, until golden and crisp (this should take roughly a minute as the pieces are small). Carefully remove and drain on some kitchen towel.

At the same time, heat a good layer of oil in a non-stick pan and fry the 4 eggs so they bubble and crisp around the edges. Cook until the yolks are as you like them.

Spoon the pisto into bowls, scatter with parsley, then top with the crispy cheese. Drizzle with honey, top with a fried egg and serve.

Gilda devilled eggs

Keep any leftover alioli in a jar in the fridge for up to 5 days. If you want a quick cheat for the alioli, use 2 tablespoons of good quality mayonnaise mixed with a little freshly grated garlic instead.

Makes 8
free-range eggs 4 large
alioli 2 tbsp (see recipe below)
smoked sweet pimenton a good pinch, plus extra to serve
piquillo pepper 1, finely chopped
capers 2 tsp, drained, rinsed and chopped
salted anchovies 2-3
guindilla peppers 2, or chilli peppers
pitted green olives 8 large
extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

For the alioli
free-range egg yolk 1 large
garlic 1 small clove, grated
cider vinegar 1 tsp
olive oil 125ml
extra virgin olive oil 2 tbsp (this adds a really rich and delicious flavour to the alioli)
lemon juice to taste

Put the eggs in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil, then continue to boil for 6 minutes. Drain until cool under cold running water.

Next, make the alioli. Put the egg yolk in a bowl with sea salt and pepper (either white or freshly ground black, depending on your preference). Whisk in the garlic and cider vinegar.

Gradually whisk in the olive oil until you have a smooth, thick emulsion, then whisk in the extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon of just boiled water. Add lemon juice to taste and set aside.

Peel the eggs and halve them lengthways. Scoop the yolks out into a bowl and mash well, then add 2 tablespoons of the alioli, a pinch of pimenton, the piquillo pepper and the capers. Mix well, then spoon this mixture back into the egg white halves and arrange on a plate.

Slice the anchovy and guindilla into small pieces, and stuff the green olives with as much of them as you can. Put an olive on each egg half, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, add a good grind of fresh black pepper and serve.

Beetroot salmorejo with anchovy toasts

Serves 4 (or 6 as a small starter)

beetroot 1 medium, cleaned
really ripe tomatoes 500g, cored and chopped
slightly stale white bread 100g, torn
garlic 2 cloves, crushed
sherry vinegar 2 tsp
water 300-350ml
extra virgin olive oil 75ml

For the toasts
baguette 8 slices
garlic 1 clove, peeled
salted anchovies 16 (or boquerones)
chives 2 tbsp, snipped
extra virgin olive oil 2 tbsp

Heat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Wrap the beetroot in foil and roast for 40-45 minutes until tender to the point of a knife. Unwrap and when cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and chop into small pieces.

Put the chopped beetroot and the tomatoes in a blender and blitz until smooth. Add the bread, garlic and vinegar, as well as plenty of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and blitz again till smooth.

Gradually whizz in the water until you have smooth, thick soup, then blend in the extra virgin olive oil. Pour into a jug and chill for at least 2 hours.

Toast the baguette slices and rub them with the clove of garlic. Arrange 2 anchovies on each toast. Divide the soup into 4 bowls, top each one with 2 toasts and scatter with chives. Drizzle with oil, add a grind of black pepper and serve.

Chicken chilindron

The juiciness of the sauce will depend on the tomatoes you use, so if you take the lid off after 20 minutes and it does not look like it needs reducing, keep cooking with the lid on. If you like, you can add a tin or jar of chickpeas at the end.

Serves 4-6
red peppers 2
free-range chicken thighs 8, bone in, skin on
smoked sweet pimenton 1 tsp
olive oil 2 tbsp
onion 1 large, finely sliced
garlic 3 cloves, bashed
fresh oregano 3 sprigs
manzanilla sherry 200ml
ripe tomatoes 500g, chopped
fresh chicken stock 150ml
pitted black olives 125g
salted anchovies 3
flat-leaf parsley a handful, chopped

Blacken the peppers on the flame of the hob (or you can use a high grill). Once charred all over, pop them in a plastic bag to steam.

Season the chicken thighs with pimenton, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat the oil in a casserole or frying pan on a medium high heat and brown the chicken all over (it will take 8-10 minutes for them to take on a good colour). Remove from the pan and set aside.

Remove the skin from the peppers, discard the seeds, then slice into strips.

Add the onion to the pan and fry on a medium heat for 5 minutes until it starts to soften, then add the garlic and oregano and fry for a few more minutes. Return the chicken to the pan, add the peppers and sherry, and let it bubble for a minute or two before adding the tomatoes and stock. Season well and bring to the boil.

Cover and reduce to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for 20 minutes more to allow the sauce to reduce slightly.

Add the olives and anchovies and cook, still at a low, simmering temperature, for 10 minutes more until the sauce is reduced. Scatter with parsley and serve with crusty bread.

Flan de fresa

You can make these individually sized, if you prefer. Divide the caramel between 8 small ramekins, then pour the strawberry mixture over the top. Cook and chill in the same way.

Serves 8
caster sugar 150g
strawberries 150g, washed and hulled, plus 200g to serve
condensed milk 1 x 397g tin
whole milk 200ml
free-range eggs 3 large, plus 1 free-range yolk
vanilla bean paste 2 tsp

Heat the oven to 150C fan/gas mark 3½ and boil a large kettle.

In a pan, heat the sugar with 3 tablespoons of water until melted, then increase the heat and bubble without stirring until you have a lovely golden caramel. Pour into a round 20cm ovenproof ceramic baking dish or tarte tatin tin, swirl to coat, then leave to cool.

Blend the strawberries until they form a smooth puree. Then add the condensed milk and whole milk, and blend again until you have a smooth pink mixture.

Whisk the eggs, yolk and vanilla in a large jug until smooth, then whisk in the strawberry mixture. Pour it over the caramel, then place inside a large, deep-sided roasting tin and place in the centre of the oven. Pour boiling water into the roasting tin about half way up the side of the baking dish, then cook for 40-45 minutes until it is set but with a slight wobble.

Remove from the oven and cool, then chill for at least 3 hours.

Run a sharp knife around the outside of the dish and invert on to a plate with a lip. You will feel a satisfying plop when it releases and the caramel floods the plate. Serve with extra strawberries.


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