Madrid Memories: Tortilla Española

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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To make the tortilla…

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Whisk four of the best eggs you can find.

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Roast potatoes and sauté onion. Then, mix them with the eggs.

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Heat olive oil until simmering. Then, add the potato-egg mixture to the pan.

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When gold on the bottom, invert the tortilla onto a plate.

The “flip” is the fun part!

DSC_2395  Next, slide it back into the hot pan.

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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.

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Print

Tortilla a la Española

Adapted from American Pi, The Cookbook: Recipes from Atlanta’s Paideia School 

Ingredients:

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

Preparation:

  • 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.

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©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.

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101 thoughts on “Madrid Memories: Tortilla Española

    1. Hi, Melissa. Thank you for the sweet note! I have never used cheese, but manchego is delicious on the side. Since you are a trained chef, let me know if you incorporated cheese and how it goes. Stay warm in NYC! Best, Shanna

  1. Love your story Shanna. Memories such as this are deeply embedded and I know you must of loved writing and reliving the story for us. A very fun read. And your omelet is wonderful. Thank you for sharing with us, I’ll have to make us one for sure. 🙂

  2. Love your storytelling, my friend, so nostalgic! Espana is such a wonderful country, and as an italian, I can share some habits and culinary flavours. In Italy this “tortilla” will be a “frittata”. We also cook it with all vegetables and with onions, too.
    Hoping that you’re doing well. Hugs – Cris

      1. Hi dear, but where are you?? Hoping that you’re busy with interesting things 😉
        I like really much omelette with cheese and prosciutto cotto, or with peas and onions… but i love quite all vegetables, so it’s no big deal… Happy Monday!Hugs – Cris

  3. What a beautiful story–it makes me feel like I was in Spain with all the food and lovely people too (wishful thinking). I never had a Spanish omelet in Spain, but I’ve made a recipe several times now from The Best International Recipe cookbook; I throw in veggies just to make it more of a meal (is this normal in Spain?). Have a lovely day, Shanna!

    1. Hi, Ngan – Your addition of vegetables sound delicious. I have never had a tortilla prepared that way, but a green salad served on the side is always welcome. How smart of you to make the omelette a meal! Thank you for your visit and kind comment. Best – Shanna

  4. ¡Qué hermosa experiencia que ha tenido en España con la Sra. Cristina…!!!:) Shanna ( I dind know that you were in Espana)and that experience with the Elena’s,That is a really Memories.
    i’m really gelosy of you,the way you write,its seems you read a poem,compliment!
    The ” frittata” is very easy and you did very good”,I m sure your children enjoy it!

    1. Thank you for the visit and warm and generous comments, Massi. Oh, my – how many languages do you speak? Four, I assume?! I am so impressed by your knowledge of so many languages. Yes, these memories are very important to me and special. What is your favorite frittata recipe? I will have to try it! The kids love anything with fresh eggs and vegetables. Enjoy your Sunday! Best wishes, Shanna

  5. The similarities continue…I was an exchange student too! I spent my senior year of high school in Germany and junior year of college in Austria. I also have fond food memories of my times spend there. Food bridges cultural gaps and forms friendships. I truly miss all the fresh markets and bakeries. This recipe looks delicious and similar to something we enjoy for brunch or sometimes breakfast play dates.

    1. Gretchen, I am always surprised by how much we have in common. I suppose that I should just expect it! 🙂 I would love to hear more about your experiences in Europe – maybe in a future blog post? 😉 I miss the markets and bakeries – and walkability / mass transit – of European culture, as well. Thank you for stopping by, leaving a kind note and sharing your story. Warmest wishes, Shanna

  6. What a vivid memory of great friends. Love your story. Thanks for sharing, Shanna as well as this delicious potato and egg omelet. This would be great to bring for brunch too. Have a great day! 🙂

      1. My pleasure PRCCSS. Hmm..something to keep in mind next time there’s a party or get together for brunch.

        Thank you, Shanna. I hope yours is fantastic as well.
        ~Best, Anna

  7. yay, another wonderful food memory! What a lovely time in your life that must have been. And how perfect is that “frittata” for a family with young kids. They love? Great photos, too 🙂

  8. I love tortillas and I used to prepare them with potatoes and chorizo. . It’s not an italian habit but I love try different food. . 🙂 wonderful blog!

  9. Oh Spanish tiles, how beautiful, am glad that you have nice memories of the tiles 🙂 (sorry, I have quite an obsession with floors haha). Yum, this is a favourite for everyone in Spain. I did a post of this too 🙂 because I love it too. xxx
    PS when I was recently in Madrid and popped over to see my grandma, I thought of you thinking that oh you had lived very nearby to my grandma’s place.

    1. Hi, Sofia. I will have to read your post; I am sure that it is lovely. I love tile, too – Thank you for sharing! Next time you are in Madrid, you will have to look Cristina up. 🙂 Enjoy your Sunday, Amiga! Besos, Shanna

    1. Michelle, You hit the nail on the head. Tortilla is at its best, the next day, sandwiched between two slices of delicious bread. What condiments or toppings do you you enjoy with leftover egg sandwiches? Thanks for the visit! Best regards, Shanna

  10. This is very similar to the Basque version, excepting the onions. They use lots of garlic instead. And they pan-fry the potatoes in the same pan used for the tortilla, never deep-fried. You’re right, such a dangerous method of cooking. Even though I live alone I use a small saucepan without a handle, put on the back of the hob/stove and about an inch of oil only. Well, some might say that’s shallow frying. I just call it safer!

    1. Johnny, I love the idea of adding lots of garlic to this. Garlic is a flavor that I love and often use without much restraint (though I should use more!). Shallow frying is a delicious alternative – nice idea. Thank you for your visit and sharing your ideas and food knowledge. Best, Shanna

  11. Yours was the type of college life l dreamt about! But did not come to fruition for me. I wish I could comment in Spanish, but I’m unable to speak it after having left Chile very young. I know helado is supposed to be ice cream?? Thank you for sharing the story and lovely recipe!!

    1. Hi, Ju-won – How long were you in Chile? Was it for one of your parents’ work? You know the important words, I am sure, such as helado. I used to love helado de chocolate 🙂 at an ice cream shop in Madrid. Thank you for your visit and kind comment! Best wishes, Shanna

  12. Wow, Shanna, what a great post, great memories and, most of all, great tortilla!!!
    I’ve enjoyed every line of your life in Spain; I kind of picture you by that time doing all that stuff and having all those experiences (it reminds me so much of my time abroad too).
    It’s true that la tortilla española o tortilla de patatas is an undisputed must in every Spanish home. Its smell, its taste… Yours looks fantastic!
    Next time in Spain you must get in contact, ok?
    Besos

    1. Hello, dear Rosa! Thank you for taking the time to read the post and leave such a sweet note. You compliment on the Tortilla means a lot – since you would know! 🙂 Where did you study abroad and what did you study? I will absolutely contact you when I am next in Spain. We could make a cake (or two!) together, for sure. 😉 Besos, Shanna

  13. Shanna, this is such a lovely dish! I’m on board with you in regards to roasting the potatoes. No sense in deep frying with the littles running all around. How amazing to have such an experience. I’d love to hear more about the culture and of course, the food someday. I imagine preparing this makes the memory of your wonderful time spent there come rushing back!

    1. Hi, Allison, I appreciate your visit and wonderful note! Yes, preparing this dish brings back memories. I find myself making it – or something Spanish – when I am thinking, or missing, someone from my time there. I am sure that you have a lot to share about international cooking, too, from what I know. 🙂 Have a great Sunday. Best, Shanna

      1. I’ve never tried anything like this, but I printed the recipe (yes, I have to have that paper recipe in front of me!) so I can prepare it! It seems like it would make a really nice Sunday brunch recipe. Thank you for sharing it with us and I hope you’ll share more from your time there. 🙂

  14. This looks so delicious! I like the idea of roasting the potatoes in advance instead of frying them. Stick them in the oven and in a short time they are ready. A weekend breakfast with scrambled eggs and bacon?!

    1. Hello, Kiyo, I am such a huge fan of roasting any vegetable, particularly root vegetables. The flavor is so deep and rich. Your idea of a weekend breakfast breakfast idea is wonderful. It seems that you and Dan have both thought of bacon! In Spain, tortilla is often served with a cured meat, Jamón Serrano, so the idea is perfect. Enjoy your Sunday – and thank you for the sweet comment. Best, Shanna

  15. the flip part is the tricky part! Actually, knowing when the tortilla is ready to be flipped is the tricky part when I make it. I tend to overcook the bottom. Yours look delicious! Love you stories from Spain 🙂

    1. Hi, Paul – Thank you for your lovely and kind comment. I try to peek underneath of the tortilla with a spatula to see “what’s cooking.” Of course, the onions often caramelize on the outside of the tortilla… but this is welcome in my book. Enjoy your weekend! Best, Shanna

      1. hahahah my mom has this heat resistant glass cooking set, I think there’s a pan in there as well, its totally see through and you can use it directly on the stove. Maybe I should look into that 🙂

  16. What an amazing experience to live and go to school in Spain and shop in the markets! There is one thing that transcends all cultures and that is the food. I love Tortilla a la Española as they are great for really any time of the day or night. Take Care, BAM

  17. You are so lucky you had a good food experience with your guest hostess. My daughter lived in Valencia for three months in 2001 and her hostess didn’t cook at all. Although she once made a tortilla, but smothered it with tons of mayonnaise. She smothered everything with mayonnaise. I also think she was only in it for the money, which is sad. But my daughter managed to make lots of friends, which she’s good at, so it ended up being wonderful for her. But too bad about the home experience. Glad you had a good one. And your tortilla looks fabulous!!!

    1. Hi, Mimi – Of Valencia, I remember that the culture is so vibrant – and the oranges are everywhere. I am so sorry to hear about your daughter’s negative experience. It is so saddening to hear. And the mayonnaise… Oh, no… Awful. Your daughter sounds like a very friendly and positive person. I am glad she was able to make the best of a difficult situation. Fortunately, my host was not looking for any financial gain. She was such a kind and incredibly generous woman. Thank you for your kind comment, Mimi. My best to you, Shanna

  18. Love Tortilla Espanola- so delicious! I actually made for the first time whilst I was in Mallorca last Summer- it tasted so good. Your recipe looks amazing- I now really want to make it again 🙂

  19. Hi Shanna,
    Your story and your recipe sound just divine! I think I will try your recipe for Sunday brunch tomorrow morning. It sounds easy and scrumptious. I’ll let you know how it goes…Enjoy your weekend!

  20. Shanna dear how the heck do you flip that thing? what size pan are you using too btw? nonstick i’m imagining? also…i plan on going to Madrid at the end of April! Coincidence? I think not! Hope to hit you up for some advice on where to go! ❤ xo*

    1. Hi, Vera… I use a large and sturdy plate – and a pot holder – to flip the tortilla. My pan is just a standard, large skillet – maybe 10 inches or so in diameter. You can use regular or non-stick – just add more olive oil if you are not working with a non-stick surface. I cannot wait to chat with you about Madrid – what a beautiful city. Take good care! Hugs, Shanna

  21. I enjoyed reading the story of your life in Spain. Shopping and cooking and going out with international students. What an interesting life. Tortilla Espanola is indeed an omelette. I thought you were joking. An omelette sold in the supermarket how interesting. What if I just buy some ready made potato wedges, slice them and use them to make the tortilla? Christina sounded like a wonderful lady. Thanks so much for sharing. I missed the eggs in the list of ingredients though. were they meant to be included? enjoy the rest of the week. I have four recipes I still need to cook from here, as soon as I get better re-organized. We are drowning in between huge mounds of snow. Our streets look really funny…Take care. Best…Liz

    1. Hi, Liz,
      Thank you for stopping by and leaving such a lovely comment. It sounds like it is quite chilly and “snowy” in Canada… I suppose that will give you lots of time to try some recipes. 🙂 It is actually snowing here, too, in New Mexico. Stay warm and have a great day!
      Best wishes,
      Shanna

      1. Ha we’ve has so much snow today…I have no words to describe it. I have shovelled and shovelled and shovelled the whole day long. I hope we don’t get another storm again. I’m getting rather worn out. Bright side: I baked today and even took photos. There was no way I was going anywhere. The roads were slippery so I decided to stay indoors. I have just come back from my son’s game…cars were getting stuck in the parking lot. Hilarious. Have a lovely week!

      1. I’m glad you’re still in touch! I don’t really have a recipe for tortilla. It’s not something I’ve made often. My memory of it is visiting a friend in Massachusetts, and after my husband, daughters, and I finally arrived after a long, long car drive, that is what she served us. She and her husband have been to Spain many times.

  22. You write very well Shanna. I loved every paragraph of this post… beautiful memories and words. I also adore tapas… my absolute favourite way to eat! You’ve done complete justice to the Spanish tortilla in this post, looks delicious! x

  23. Did you change your blog layout? It looks different! That tortilla looks yummy. It sort of reminds me of the Korean seafood scallion pancakes…probably because they are both round. But your tortilla has more variety in ingredients. 🙂 Unlike me, you flipped like a pro. I broke mine when I flipped. Hehe.

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