Sunshine on a plate: Skye Gyngell's chill-busting Spanish recipes

To celebrate her return as our regular food writer, Skye Gyngell serves up a chill-busting fiesta of her favourite hearty and healthy Spanish recipes
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Spanish food is wonderful at this time of year. When the weather is so cold, it brings a little sunshine into the bleak and grey winter; robust, with sweet and complex undertones, it satisfies the soul almost more than any other cuisine. It is food that really comes from the terrain in which it is grown – what the French call cuisine du terroir ("from the ground"). Its use of pounded nuts, especially almonds and hazelnuts, thickens sauces and lends them a textural heartiness.

Spices such as cumin and fennel seeds give an earthiness, while saffron and sweet paprika give an exotic, otherworldly feel and warmth. It is cooking that is strong and brave, never pretentious and very, very earthy.

Beautiful Spanish ingredients are available in this country through companies such as Brindisa (see The Forager below). At work we always have on our shelves beautiful sherry vinegar from Jerez, sweet paprika, dried chillies, calasparra rice (traditionally used in paella) and little dried white beans, as well as sherries such as Pedro Ximénez, oloroso, manzanilla and fino. These sherries all have different characteristics: from dry crisp and clean, to dark, luscious and raisiny. We usually also keep some spicy chorizo and Iberian hams in our fridge.

Sometimes, I mix these flavours with things that are not traditionally Spanish, putting our own slant on the conventional combinations, but I'm not sure they can replace the traditional dishes of this sun-drenched country. The recipes included here are purely Spanish, though – not fiddled with at all.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8606 3627

Braised oxtail with garlic and sherry vinegar

Serves 4-6

This is slow-cooked food at its best – you'll need to prepare this at least three hours ahead. But it's worth it:the oxtail becomes meltingly tender, warm and satisfying.

3kg/6lb oxtail
1 tbsp Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
5 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 dried chilli
5 fresh bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
100ml/31/2fl oz sherry vinegar
3 jars of good-quality tomatoes
500ml/17fl oz of water
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 whole cloves

Using a sharp knife, trim the oxtail of most of its fat. Place a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When warm, add the carrots, onion, chilli, bay leaves and garlic. Immediately turn the heat to very low and sweat for 20 minutes, stirring every now and then. In a separate pan, brown the oxtail well on both sides; this should take about four minutes per side. Remove the oxtail from the pan and deglaze with the vinegar, removing the bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the oxtail to the veg along with the sherry vinegar. Add the tomatoes and water, a pinch of salt and a little freshly ground pepper, stir well and place a lid on the pan.

Turn the heat to its lowest setting and cook for three hours, stirring every now and then. Add the cloves 20 minutes from the end. The meat is ready when it falls from the bone. Turn off the heat and allow the dish to cool to room temperature. It will taste all the better for this. Twenty minutes before eating, reheat the dish over a low heat and serve piping hot.

Carrots with fennel seeds, oregano and mint

Serves 4

This sharp, sweet dish is delicious eaten with slow-cooked meats, but is equally good on its own. Its warm, tangy flavour is vibrant and very moreish.

8 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into one-inch chunks
80ml/3fl oz Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
40ml/2fl oz sherry vinegar
The juice of half a lemon
1 tsp sweet paprika
A good pinch of sea salt
1 bunch of mint, leaves only, chopped roughly
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp fennel seeds, roasted and ground in a pestle and mortar

Place the carrots in a saucepan with just enough cold water to cover. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat slightly and cook for around 10 minutes, until the carrots are tender but still retain a little bite. Drain and, while warm, add the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, paprika and a pinch of salt. Stir well to combine, now add the mint, oregano and fennel seeds. Stir again and adjust the seasoning if needed. Set aside for 10 minutes or so to allow the flavours to get to know one another. Serve at room temperature.

Classic tortilla

Serves 6-8

This is a traditional tortilla, using the simplest ingredients: really good fresh eggs and finely sliced cooked potatoes. Using the same method you can add almost anything you like: finely chopped, hot and spicy chorizo, mushrooms or, during the summer months, sweet red peppers. But this simple and traditional version is my favourite. Try serving it with the braised oxtail.

100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped finely
1 clove of garlic, crushed
600g/11/4lb potatoes, peeled and sliced as finely as possible
10 organic, free-range eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little extra olive oil for drizzling at the end

Place the oil in a large, heavy-based pan over a low to medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook for five minutes, then add the sliced potatoes. Cook for 25 minutes over a low heat, stirring every now and then until the potatoes are soft and beginning to break up and almost falling apart.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk well. Season with salt and pepper, add the cooked potatoes to the egg mixture and stir well to combine. Heat a little more olive oil in the same pan in which you cooked the potatoes. Pour in the egg mixture.

As the eggs begin to thicken and set, shake the pan in a circular motion and shape the mixture into a flat, round disc. Cook for a further two minutes then place a large circular plate on top of the pan and invert the tortilla on to the plate. Gently slide the tortilla back into the pan – the cooked side should now be facing upward.

Place the tortilla over a low heat and cook for a further couple of minutes. When cooked, the tortilla should be set, but with just the slightest wobble. Carefully slide on to a plate and serve warm.

Slow-cooked spinach with chickpeas

Serves 4

I love this combination of chickpeas and spinach. It is sustaining and nourishing – and tastes distinctly healthy.

20ml/1fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
500g/1lb young spinach leaves, washed well in several changes of cold water
300g/10oz cooked chickpeas
3 tsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp cumin seeds
A good pinch of sea salt
100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil to finish

Place the oil in a medium pan over a low heat, add the garlic and sauté for a minute or two, being careful not to let the garlic burn, as the bitter taste will permeate the whole of the dish. Now add the spinach in several batches; as each batch wilts, add another. It should wilt down to about a third of its original volume.

Increase the heat slightly and add the chickpeas. Cook for five minutes, then add the sherry vinegar, paprika, cumin and a good pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low and add the 100ml of olive oil. Stir well and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Give it one last stir and serve.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on where to find the best Spanish ingredients...

There really is no such thing as a singular "Spanish" cuisine, but the regions are united by many common ingredients and a regard for nature, simplicity and boldness of flavour.

Brindisa (www.brindisa.com) was one of the first to import quality regional ingredients from Spain. It has two London shops and is brilliant for freshly sliced pata negra (the aromatic, succulent ham from the Iberian black pigs of the Dehesa region of Extremadura).

Delicioso (www.delicioso.co.uk) sells a wide range of Spanish ingredients as well as sherry, sherry vinegar and cider, while Spanish delicatessens such as Garcia & Son in London's Notting Hill (tel: 020 7221 6119) have been supplying the Spanish expat community for years.

Quality sherry is increasingly available from high-street specialists such as Noble Green Wines (www.noblegreenwines.co.uk), while the Sherry Institute of Spain's website, www.tenstartapas.com, is an insider's guide to sherry.

A Taste of Spain (www.atasteofspain. com), meanwhile, organises foodie tours throughout Spain.

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