“One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller said that. He also said “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” Both extracts from Tropic of Cancer. Both trigger an ever-present appetite for unearthing new places both geographically and inside of me.
Food, for me, is an important part of travel and discovery and of seeing the world and my place in it, differently . I find that the meals that I enjoy while traveling become richly symbolic of that culture as well as the new insight and awareness that I’ve gained by being there. Today, I’m reminded of Spain and how the tradition that surrounds food is such a reflection of the people there and their fearless connection to each other. The ritual of tapas or pinchos is a perfect example of that. We know tapas as small bites of…well, anything really. But the tradition in Spain behaves almost as a progressive dinner party where natives and transients are enthusiastically invited, without expectation or excessive expense. Such a beautiful and unpretentious way of enjoying a meal.
“Joyous, drunken, serene, divine.”
Tortilla Española or Tortilla de Patatas reminds me of that experience, sharing food and wine with the happiest of strangers. Nearly every time I serve it to a group someone is led back to their own travels there. This is because if you’ve been to Spain you’ve at least tasted, if not over-indulged in tortilla. It is served almost everywhere warm, cold, at room temperature, with bread and without. It’s origin is debated but it’s been said to have been first created by a General during the First Carlist War because it was “simple, inexpensive and could feed an army”.
This is really simple so don’t let anyone trick you into thinking otherwise. It’s potato, onion and egg, after all. There are just a couple of things to note. First, just know that you’re not making an American omelette that is first, an egg dish and second, its contents. Tortilla is about the potato and onion, the egg simply serves to bind. So, when combining the cooked potato and onion with the egg be conscious of the proportions between the two (which can vary based on the size of your potatoes and eggs). You don’t want a deep pool of egg with potato and onion floating inside. You simply want the potato to be well-coated.
Also, mid-way through cooking you’ll encounter a bit of stunt-work. You will be sliding the tortilla from the pan onto a large plate and then inverting it back into the pan to cook the other side. A little coordination is required but you can do it. And I read somewhere that unfamiliar, physical tasks build new neural pathways so it might make you smarter.
If you’ve never been to Spain I hope you can do that someday but whether the Tortilla Espanola trips a nostalgic nerve or not it’s is a nice one to keep in your repertoire as a gluten-free side, main or simply one of those warm and comforting dishes that you throw together when you’re craving a plate of carbs (always!).
- ½ c. olive oil
- 6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
- 6 medium eggs
- salt and pepper
- COOKING THE POTATOES AND ONION - Add the oil to a large saute pan and heat over medium flame. Once the oil is hot, add the sliced potatoes and onion, spreading them evenly in the pan. Stir/turn the potatoes frequently ensuring that all are cooked through. Once the potatoes are cooked through/soft, remove from the heat. Drain the potatoes and onion, reserving the oil and salt and pepper the drained vegetables.
- PREPARE THE EGG BATTER - Beat the eggs in a large bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Gently add the drained potato and onions, stirring to make sure that they're fully coated with egg.
- COOKING THE TORTILLA - If you have a large, non-stick pan this is the time to use it. It will make the process of flipping the tortilla much less cumbersome. Heat a few tablespoons of the reserved cooking oil in the pan over low heat and add the egg + potato mixture. The goal here is took the bottom of the tortilla to a golden brown while cooking as much of it through as possible. As it cooks, lift the edges allowing egg mixture to run underneath. You'll also want to use a spatula to consistently loosen the edges. I also like to shimmy the pan as the tortilla starts to firm up to help release it from the pan.
- FLIPPING THE TORTILLA - Once the tortilla is cooked mostly through (it will still be wet on top but not runny) you will slide it from the pan onto a large dinner plate. Next, invert the pan and place it over the plate. Using oven mitts, hold the pan and plate tightly together and flip so that the uncooked side of the tortilla is now being cooked. Continue cooking for about 3-5 minutes, until the egg is fully cooked.
- SERVING THE TORTILLA - To serve, cut into wedges or squares. You can eat it immediately or enjoy it cold or at room temperature.