Spanish tortilla is such an easy and tasty dish, I don’t know why I don’t think of it more often when planning meals. It can be prepared in advance and the recipe can be varied to include alternative ingredients. Because it is served at room temperature, the tortilla can sit out for a few hours without refrigeration, making it a perfect buffet or party food, (although we still don’t need to consider that for many months).
A traditional tortilla Espanola (no there are not corn or flour tortillas involved) is a potato frittata or omelet cooked in a very specific way with quite a lot of olive oil. You simmer the potatoes in oil until very soft. Then you drain the oil, add the egg mixture, cook until set, hold your breath and flip and cook some more. A good (ceramic or other non-scratching surface) non-stick pan or well-seasoned cast iron skillet makes the flipping all that much easier because eggs tend to really stick. The traditional with potato is fantastic but variations are easy. Tortilla will last in the fridge for a few days and travels well for a picnic or lunchbox. Every bar we visited in Spain, in the before days of travel, had their own tortilla sitting on or behind the counter at the ready. My brother-in-law, who studied in Spain and remembered his home stay mother’s version fondly, taught himself to make tortillas last year and encouraged me to try. At first, I was appalled at the amount of oil required but much of it remains in the pan. If you get in the habit of making tortillas, you can save the oil to reuse each time and enjoy an intensified flavor. I used Seamus Mullen’s recipe as a starting point and then varied the amounts to suit my taste.
Many cultures make some version of eggs with vegetables, starchy or green. Think of French omelets, Italian frittatas, and Persian kuku (like a green herb frittata). Tortilla is the Spanish version and the way you cook it in oil and flip it is what distinguishes it (frittata goes in the oven briefly to finish). Making one is a great way to use up leftover potatoes and vegetables and doesn’t need cheese like the Italian and some French versions. Perhaps try the traditional recipe first and then experiment with your favorite ingredients. A little smoked paprika enlivens the flavor but plain is delicious. My current obsessions are mushrooms, leeks, leafy greens and fresh herbs so my next tortilla will include some or all of these. One time I added some shredded zucchini just to get rid of it! And don’t be afraid of the oil – most of it is left over and some olive oil is supposed to be good for us!
SPANISH STYLE TORTILLA
- 2 cups olive oil
- 3 large waxy potatoes, sliced thinly (about 3 cups)
- 1 medium onion, sliced thinly (about 1 cup)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 6 eggs, beaten
Heat the oil in a medium frying pan. Sloped sides and a non-stick surface are very helpful.
Add onions, potatoes and a sprinkle of salt and cook at a low simmer until the potatoes get quite soft. Drain the potatoes in a strainer, catching the oil in a bowl. Cool oil and reserve to use again. Salt and pepper the potato mixture to taste and then stir into the beaten eggs.
Add 1-2 TBs of oil back to the pan and when heated add the egg mixture to the pan. Stir occasionally until the eggs start to set up and then lower the heat and cook undisturbed until the bottom is cooked through. (Peek under with a spatula to see if browning and set). Remove from heat, cover with a plate (larger than the pan), press on the plate with one hand to keep pan covered and flip. Jiggle the pan to make sure egg is all released onto the plate. If there is any egg left in the pan, use a spatula to remove and place it on the cooked part already on the plate.
Add a little more oil to the pan and slide the egg/potato mixture back into the pan, cooked side visible. Cook until the bottom is also set and then cover and flip once more to make sure the whole thing is set and edges rounded. Remove from heat and slide onto a plate. Let it all sit for a few minutes to finish cooking inside off heat. Slice into wedges and enjoy warm or at room temperature.