Ham and cheese croquetas

This recipe comes from José Pizarro, a regular on BBC1's Saturday Kitchen who owns and runs a tapas bar (José) and restaurant (Pizarro) in London's Bermondsey. José has also written a number of critically acclaimed cookery books, so although this recipe for a tapa staple might seem lengthy, stick with it! It will be well worth the effort. There are more recipes from José on his restaurant website.

Makes 15 to 20 croquetas

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ small leek, diced as small as possible - 3mm piece
  • 70g Ibérico or other air-dried ham, diced very small
  • 60g plain flour
  • 75ml ham or vegetable stock
  • 325ml whole milk
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 50g Picos Blue (Valdeón) cheese (Roquefort or Gorgonzola piccante would do)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 75g plain flour
  • 2 large free-range eggs, beaten
  • 75g dried breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil, for frying

Method

Cheese and Ham Croquetas

Heat the olive oil in a pan until it starts to shimmer. Add the leek and sauté until soft but not coloured. Stir in the ham, fry for another minute, then stir in the flour and fry over a medium heat until the mixture is golden but not burnt. This will take about 5 minutes. It is important that the flour is cooked properly otherwise the croquetas will taste of flour.

Combine the stock and milk in a small pan and heat until hot but not boiling. Season the liquid with a few scrapes of nutmeg. Gradually add the liquid to the roux, a few tablespoons at a time, stirring the mixture all the time. Once you have incorporated all the milk, continue to cook the sauce for about 10 minutes or until it thickens and leaves the sides of the pan when you stir it. At this stage, add a couple of twists of the pepper mill. Remove from the heat and add the cheese. Taste the roux and adjust the salt if necessary - the ham can be very salty to start with.

The filling is now done: it has to be really thick because you don't want the croquetas to turn into pancakes! Smooth the mixture on to a baking tray (30cm x 20cm is fine) then cover with cling film to stop it drying out. Leave it to cool before putting it in the fridge for an hour. When you are ready for the next stage, line up three bowls: one with flour, the other with beaten egg, and the third with the breadcrumbs. Take the ham and cheese mixture out of the fridge.

Dust your hands with flour, make a ball with the mixture and roll it between your palms. The shape and size of the croquetas is up to you, but the easiest is a walnut-sized shape ball. Next, dunk each croqueta into the flour - you want a dusting - followed by the egg and then the breadcrumbs. Put the croquetas on a tray and when you've used up all the mixture, put them all back in the fridge for 30 minutes.

If you have a deep fat fryer, heat the oil to 175°C and fry the croquetas for a couple of minutes. If not, heat the oil in a frying pan until it starts to shimmer, then add 3 or 4 croquetas at a time and fry until they are golden all over.

Wine recommendation:
This kind of tapa is incredibly easy to pair with wine - serve with cava as party nibbles, or with chilled fino or on chilly evenings you could even serve with your favourite red.

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