Seville: Schooled on Tapas

The phrase, “eating tour,” neatly summed up a recent trip to Spain.  My partner and I made it our mission to work our way through a succession of fabulous tapas spots in Madrid, Cordoba and Seville.

This sampling of staples like patatas bravas (fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce), tortilla de patata (potato omelet) and gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) helped set the stage for a more hands-on exploration of Spanish cuisine via an immersive, one-day cooking class in Seville.

Our teacher was Ruth Roberts, an Australian expatriate who for some two decades has made her living in Spain as a student, teacher and practitioner of local cuisine. Ruth served a stint as a VIP chef at the British pavilion at the 1992 World Exposition in Seville, and cooked for the wedding of a daughter of the country’s King and Queen.

Our day with Ruth started at around 10 a.m. at the well-worn market at the Plaza de la Encarnacion, where we gathered up supplies, and had a coffee to fortify us.

From there, we walked over to Roberts’ sunny studio apartment, where we would prepare –– and consume –– a lavish lunch.

On the menu: an olive and almond tapenade (below); garlic shrimp, seared tuna with Oloroso sherry, steamed clams and boquerones fritos (fried filets of fresh anchovies); shoulder of lamb with baked vegetables paired with a salsa Romesco, a garlicky tomato condiment infused with pine nuts and hazelnuts (below), and flan de naranja (orange custard).

The dishes reflected Spain’s Mediterranean climate, centuries-long occupation by the Moors, or Arabs, and proximity to northern Africa. Each recipe was designed to elicit bold flavors by pairing the freshest ingredients with garlic and key spices and generous amounts of Spanish olive oil.

Cooking the anchovies brought new meaning to farm to table, or in this case, the sea; and required a killer instinct: A quick rip of the head, removal of the spine, a dip in some flour and then into the sizzling frying pan each one went.

The recipe for the lamb dish dates to 10th century Cordoba, when the city was occupied by the Moors, and incorporates saffron, nutmeg and cumin.

Finally, after some three hours of slicing, dicing –– and a few sips of Spanish sherry –– la comida was ready to be served on the terrace.

A good read: The Cuisines of Spain: Exploring Regional Home Cooking