Tortilla Española, or a Spanish omelet, is so popular at Spain that it is sold, pre-packaged, in every grocery store refrigerated and frozen section. Yes, even the Spanish have their own version of “fast food.” However, la tortilla is so easy to make that there is no excuse to purchase it pre-prepared. The ubiquitous tapa is eaten as a bar snack, part of a light dinner or even noshed on during a hike.
During my last semester of undergraduate college, I lived in Madrid, Spain. I requested a host-family who would be comfortable allowing full-kitchen access to their assigned student. During college, half of my time was spent cooking and grocery shopping – and the other half completing reading and writing coursework for my majors, history and Spanish. My life in Spain was much the same. I shopped at markets and cooked for leisure, and attended classes at the University Complutense or art museums Prado, Reina Sofía and Thyssen-Bornemisza for school. At night, I went out with an international group of friends – Spanish, German and Dutch – and later read American classics (usually in Spanish) before falling asleep. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was my favorite at that time. On Sunday, I took long walks and allowed myself to become lost in the vast city. It was a peaceful and beautiful time of cultural exploration, European travel, freedom and fun.
I lived with the most lovely woman, Cristina. She lived alone in a large flat in the neighborhood of Argüelles. Cristina was around 60-years-old and had taken care of her parents most of her adult life, until they passed. I loved her company – she was fun, vibrant and authentic in every way. Cristina’s style of cooking was healthy, fresh, seasonal – and Madrileño. She spoke French and Spanish – both very quickly. My favorite food memories shared with her are eating paella out of a huge paellador for 3:00 PM lunch at the restaurant Casa Valencia… and making tortilla Española in her gorgeous kitchen. The kitchen was bright and covered throughout with beautiful Spanish tiles in hues of blue, yellow and white. Cristina and I became close through cooking, shopping and reading together. I nicknamed her my “Madre Española,” or Spanish Mother.
Cristina’s tortilla was prepared by frying the potatoes and onions in a big pot of simmering, salubrious olive oil. My version has become adapted over the years – the vegetables are roasted and sautéed. I am nervous about deep-frying anything with young children underfoot in the kitchen: Why take the risk?
Once, Cristina took me to have lunch at her cousins’ home near the Plaza España. The generous and kind women were a mother and daughter pair who lived together. The husband and father had passed away, and the daughter was managing his law firm, located a floor below their spacious flat. Both women were named Elena. I called them “Las Elenas” for short. At lunch, we made empanadas de mariscos, tomato gazpacho and of course la Tortilla (simmered in scrumptious buckets of golden, glistening Spanish olive oil). Of course, the meal was accompanied by a bounty of Spanish Rioja Reserva.
The next day, Elena invited me to take a ten kilometer hike in the country, along with one of her many sweet, warm friends. Halfway through the hike, we stopped our jaunt to enjoy a lunch of fresh fruit and squares of la tortilla, sandwiched between slices of fresh ciabatta. I picked up the ciabatta at my favorite panadoría that morning, along with my required daily Suizo pastry and café con leche. The bread shop was a short walk from Cristina’s flat and situated around the corner from the vast, green and breathtaking Parque de Oestre.
Tortilla Española brings back memories of my time in Spain – one of the true highlights of my life. It brings sweet memories of Cristina, La Madre Española, to surface. I hope that you try this savory, rich omelette at home.
To make the tortilla…
Whisk four of the best eggs you can find.
Roast potatoes and sauté onion. Then, mix them with the eggs.
Heat olive oil until simmering. Then, add the potato-egg mixture to the pan.
When gold on the bottom, invert the tortilla onto a plate.
The “flip” is the fun part!
When cooked, place the tortilla on a plate. Cut into squares and enjoy with ciabatta bread, sliced tomatoes and, of course, a vino tinto, such as Rioja.
Tortilla a la Española
Adapted from American Pi, The Cookbook: Recipes from Atlanta’s Paideia School
4 large russet gold potatoes, unpeeled, quartered cut into very thin slices
1 large yellow, Spanish or Vidalia onion, diced
4 large eggs
coarse salt and cracked black pepper
extra virgin Spanish olive oil
loaf of crusty bread or ciabatta bread
Preheat oven to 375•F. Divide the potatoes between two cookie sheets. Toss the potatoes salt, pepper and just enough olive oil to coat. Roast until completely cooked tender, about 20-30 minutes.
- Place the cooked potatoes in a large bowl.
- Over medium-heat, warm two tablespoons of olive oil in a ten-inch, nonstick skillet. Sauté the onion until translucent – with a few light gold pieces.
- Sprinkle the onions with salt and pepper. Place in the bowl with the potatoes. Do not wash the skillet.
- In a separate bowl, season the eggs with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs until foamy.
- Add the eggs to the potato and egg mixture. Stir with a spatula until the potatoes and onions are evenly coated with the eggs.
- Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for fifteen minutes.
- In the same ten-inch skillet use sauté the onion, warm two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering and thin, even spread the potato, egg and onion mixture into the pan. Press down slightly all over the top.
- Immediately lower the heat to medium-low heat.
- When the eggs brown on the bottom, invert/flip the omelet onto a plate. If you are using a skillet that is not non-stick, heat another tablespoon of olive in the pan.
- Slide the omelet back into the hot skillet. Press down lightly all over the top. Reduce the heat to just between low and medium low. Cook the omelette until lightly browned on the bottom and cooked through.
- Transfer the omelet to a large plate. When cooled, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes or small wedges. Serve at room temperature with bread.
©Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward, shannaward.com (2013-2014), unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author, Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward, and/or owner is strictly and completely prohibited.