These ingredients lend dishes a taste of authenticity.
Authentic Spanish flavor is easy to come by if you use the right ingredients. You'll find most of these at large supermarkets and specialty stores. Or order them from La Tienda (888-472-1022, www.tienda.com).
1. Quince paste is a sweet confection made from quince, a fruit that tastes like a mix of apple and pear. For a quick tapa, top triangles of manchego cheese with thin slices of quince paste.
2. Prized for its earthy flavor and rich aroma, Spanish smoked paprika brings a host of dishes to life, from grilled meats and fish to salads and stews. It may be sweet, bittersweet, or hot.
3. Cream sherry is a very sweet sherry used in Spanish cooking; it's also appropriate as a dessert wine.
4. Small, thin-fleshed, slightly piquant roasted piquillo peppers are sold in jars. They hold their shape, making them ideal for stuffing; they're also nice lightly sautéed with garlic and olive oil.
5. Made from the stigmas of the purple saffron crocus, the saffron spice is used in small amounts for the flavor and the golden hue it imparts to food. Buy from a reputable source to ensure authenticity and high quality.
6. Manchego cheese , Spain's unique sheep's milk cheese from the plains of La Mancha, has become popular in the United States; you can find it at supermarkets. Manchego is available semicured and mild (labeled curado) or well-cured and slightly sharp (labeled viejo).
7. Cured, airdried Serrano ham can be eaten thinly sliced (like prosciutto) and is commonly used in Spanish cooking as a flavor accent.