Reading a list of Spanish pantry basics makes you hungry right away. As Andalusian master chef Dani Garca of Bibo in London points out, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and sherry vinegar create a great gazpacho dressing and are also the basic three of Spanish cuisine. Add aromatics such as white onion (for sweetness), a lot of garlic, pimentón (smoked paprika), and saffron (both in moderation) to these.
Monika Linton, the owner of the Spanish delicatessen and tapas bar Brindisa, has cans of tuna (for leaf or bean salads), anchovies (as a tapa and for cooking), and shellfish on her shelves. She makes pulses from scratch every time, but she also keeps emergency jars of prepared beans on hand. She also suggests keeping a supply of (Mediterranean-sourced) nuts on hand, such as walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and marcona almonds, on hand for topping salads, rice dishes, vegetables, puddings, and so on.
Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, chef/owner of Paco Tapas and Casamia in Bristol and executive chef at Decimo in London, offers two recommendations. Instead of cutting the tomatoes, toast the bread, rub it with garlic, and squeeze them onto the tomatoes before dressing with olive oil and salt. Blacken red peppers directly over a flame, then wrap and leave to sweat for 10 minutes: the skins will just slide off, eliminating the need for laborious peeling.
A sofrito, on the other hand, forms the foundation of many a Spanish dinner. Linton advises that it is not a quick remedy and does not recommend using out-of-season tomatoes in her book The True Food of Spain. Instead, use the summer excess to prepare a large quantity and store it in sterilised jars. In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat 50ml olive oil, add a big, finely chopped sweet white onion, and simmer slowly for at least 30 minutes, until tender but not browned. 1kg fresh tomatoes, grated, and cooked down over a very low heat (use a diffuser if you have one) for at least 30-40 minutes and up to three hours, stirring constantly, until you get a rich, thick crimson sauce. Season to taste with sugar and salt, then sift.
Salsa espaola is another key basis for Paco Martin Romano, chef at Tapa in Edinburgh. Fry chopped onion, mushrooms, and garlic in excellent olive oil, then add a splash of Spanish brandy and a pinch of flour to form a roux. Reduce, then blitz smooth with red wine and beef stock (or white wine and no mushrooms if using the sauce with fish); a vegetarian version is also fine. Serve with roast meat and as a foundation for paella and other rice recipes.
Salmorreta, a third base sauce with garlic, parsley, and tomatoes blitzed with rehydrated ora peppers for additional punch, is also well suited to rice, according to Romano. He patiently cooks veg (bell peppers of various colors, onions at a push, but cooked to remove all the water), then adds rice and toasts it, continually moving it around, before adding in the salmorreta. He recommends using two cups of stock every cup of rice, plus a bit extra when adding pimentón, to avoid it catching and burning.
Picada, like sofrito, is used to thicken soups and stews as well as to enhance flavor. The combination of a starch (roasted unsalted nuts, bread or biscuits, crushed) with an aromatic (saffron, herbs, peppercorns, chilli, ora peppers, tomatoes, fresh peppers, garlic, even chocolate) and a liquid varies, but usually includes a starch (roasted unsalted nuts, bread or biscuits, crushed) and a liquid (olive oil, stock, wine).
Marianna Leivaditaki, a food writer and former head chef at Moro and Morito in London, recommends keeping frozen ibérico pork in the freezer and a bottle of manzanilla in the pantry, since these give depth to shellfish and chorizo dishes in particular. She also emphasizes the need of keeping Spanish food simple: good-quality meat or fish, oil, and a strong vinegar are frequently all that is required.