THERE is seemingly too much gazpacho as we sit down at chef Jose Pizarro's dining table, at his south London home.

He's already doled out bowlfuls of the cool, strawberry and tomato soup - the muted, velvety red of geraniums spiked with a powerful, peppery vinegar that we knock back teaspoons of - to his staff, who have spent the morning wandering in and out of his kitchen, snagging bits of croissant, letting him know that a new sherry supplier has been in touch.

There's still one bowlful left. A movement is made to take it away, but he grabs it with an arch grin: "For my lunch!"

We're having 'gazpacho elevenses' in honour of Pizarro's latest cookbook, ANDALUSIA, which coincides with the Spanish restaurateur's 20th year living in Britain.

It's summer encapsulated in print, from the simplest of recipes, like his orange and oregano salad, to espeto (barbecued sardines) and apricot sorbet with tejas dulces de Sevilla.

But he does not want to hear that it is too beautiful to use: "Please, cook, make it dirty, ruin it and send it to me - I will send you a new one."

And so I set to splashing a copy with earl grey tea, the hot water poured from Pizarro's proper tea kettle that whistles. Then I get salt (ground from a huge chunk that looks like white coral) and pepper (Parameswaran's Special Wynad black peppercorns) in its spine, as Pizarro passes both over for tasting before seasoning handfuls of strawberries and tomatoes, whooshed together in the blitzer.

There wasn't much Spanish food available when he first moved to London, mostly high-street chain fare, and "people didn't know what they were eating", he recalls. And what they were eating "wasn't related to Spanish quality and ingredients", either.

Take olive oil, he says, mock-horrified, it was something you kept in the medicine cabinet: "They thought olive oil was to clean their ears - you go to the pharmacy and buy olive oil - the most horrible olive oil ever! Rancid, disgusting, and the most expensive olive oil you'll buy in your life!"

Things have changed a lot in two decades though, and the concept of good Spanish food is something most of us are largely comfortable with. "Parma ham - people do understand now." Delving deeper into the food of Andalusia then, is not so obscure an idea as it might have been two decades ago.

Even some of the relaxed qualities of Spanish-style eating are translating, especially the idea of small sharing plates. "If you are in a tapas bar and you are there alone, you just sit next to someone," explains Pizarro. "[You] say, 'Oh wow, what's that?' [to the person next to you]. That opens a conversation.

"You feel more comfortable to do that in a place like a tapas bar, than other places."

It's a much more amiable way of eating than the traditional English way of saying, "That's mine - and don't ask me, 'How is the food?'," says Pizarro with a laugh, the image of someone leaning over with their own fork springing instantly to mind. "It's getting much better," he says of habits here. Things are loosening up.

Born in Extremadura, Spain, Pizarro moved to London after a stint cheffing in Madrid, and although "it was a shock" has "loved it since the beginning" - largely because of the diversity of food and cuisines available in Britain, a diversity Spain just didn't have.

"We're lucky now, we can go out every night if we want, we don't need to stay in, we don't need to spend so much money and you can eat OK," he says, noting that's the case across the UK, not just London. You can get a good Indian meal almost anywhere, for instance, and the choice on offer can be stunning if you look for it. He becomes excitable just thinking about the tentacles he can find at a shop just round the corner form his house: "I go there sometimes and just collect, it's amazing," he says, eyes blazing.

He's also found that people are increasingly keen to learn more - and so he's doing his best to make everyone a fan of sherry. "Sherry is really important for me," he says (we don't indulge in a cold glass with our gazpacho, but if the hands on the clock had nudged a little further past 11am, we would have done). "It's not a granny drink that was in the cabinet, warm, from the year before. It brings much flavour."

Not that he doesn't have great respect for the tastes and expertise of women who have been cooking all their lives. While researching ANDALUSIA, he visited las hermanas Franciscanas (the Franciscan nuns) in Ronda, Malaga.

"I went to the convent and I thought, 'I'm not going to get in'," remembers Pizarro; fortunately they grabbed and hugged him, cinching him into their waists.

"So lovely! Oh they were really lovely, really friendly. In some way, they want to see people coming from outside, slowly, slowly, slowly, try to open a little bit more, not much I think, but enough to build a community and to share." They taught him how to make ganotes - twists of sweet, orange scented deep-fried dough - that he says is the most moving, touching recipe in the book for him.

However, turn to page 194 for a picture of Pizarro happily rolling out dough, and the nun next to him is looking at him utterly bemused. "That face?!" says Pizarro, creased up with laughter. "I'm very happy! She looking at me like, 'What are you doing?!'"

But "every recipe has a story", says Pizarro with feeling. "It has to have something that means something, or it's just food."

ANDALUSIA: Recipes From Seville And Beyond by Jose Pizarro, photography by Emma Lee, is published by Hardie Grant, priced £26. Available May 30.



(Serves 10-12)

125g caster sugar

50ml honey

1/2tsp orange blossom water

225ml water

150g mixed nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, finely chopped

1/2tsp ground cinnamon

100g unsalted butter, melted

6-8 sheets of filo pastry

For the figs:

8 ripe figs, halved

Good drizzle of honey

4tbsp Pedro Ximenez sherry

Handful of flaked almonds, toasted

To serve:

Creme fraiche (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4).

2. In a small saucepan, melt the sugar, honey and orange blossom water with the water, then simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, until slightly reduced and syrupy.

3. Mix the chopped nuts with the cinnamon. Lightly grease an 18-20cm square shallow tin with a little of the melted butter. Lay a sheet of filo in the bottom (trim if necessary) and brush with the butter, scatter with the nuts then add another layer of filo and melted butter.

4. Repeat four times, ending with a final layer of filo. Butter the top generously and use a sharp knife to cut into diamond shapes. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden and crisp.

5. Spoon half of the cooled syrup over the pastries as they come out of the oven. Let stand for five minutes, then spoon over the rest of the syrup. Allow to cool completely in the tin.

6. As the pastries are cooling, place the figs in a small baking dish and drizzle with honey and sherry. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until tender. Serve the pastries with the baked figs and a dollop of creme fraiche, if you like.


A quick, summery dinner.

"I love clams, whether served with jamon or just on their own with a splash of sherry or white wine," says restaurateur and chef, Jose Pizarro. "I always thought that chorizo would overpower the delicate sweetness of the clams, but to my delight, I was wrong - this is a must-try.

"The crispy chorizo adds a lovely texture and the smoky flavour from the pimenton de la Vera is a perfect match for fino sherry."


(Serves 4)

1kg clams

75g chorizo picante, chopped into 1cm cubes

1tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Large sprig of thyme

100ml fino sherry

To serve:

Crusty bread


1. Place the clams in a bowl under cold running water forfive minutes. Discard any that won't close.

2. In a lidded saucepan over a high heat, cook the chorizo in a little olive oil for six minutes, until caramelised. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chorizo from the pan and place in a bowl.

3. Add the onion, garlic and thyme sprig to the chorizo fat in the pan and fry for 10 minutes, or until softened. Increase the heat, add the clams and chorizo back to the pan, pour in the sherry, then cover with a lid. Cook for three minutes, or until all the clams have steamed open, discarding any clams that haven't.

4. Tip into a large bowl and serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices.