Tortilla espanola for the olive pickers

On any morning last week there were eight to ten olive pickers, all with robust appetites, clustered around the kitchen stove for coffee, tea, and whatever could fill them up and get them started on the trees. My job? Providing the filling. And nothing filled more adequately than that

Tortilla espanola in the black iron skillet


It’s too simple to need a recipe but here goes: For eight people, take a good-sized onion and three potatoes. Chop the onion, slice the potatoes, and add them to the skillet with about 1/3 cup of olive oil. Stew gently over medium-low heat until the potatoes are soft. While they’re cooking, chop the potatoes further with a spatula. (Why not just chop the potatoes in the first place? I don’t know, I’m just doing what Spanish cooks do.) Add salt and pepper and then, when the potatoes are tender, remove the skillet from the heat and drain the vegetables, reserving the oil.

Beat up about ten or a dozen eggs in a bowl and tip in the drained vegetables, stirring to mix it all together. Now using a clean skillet (or wiping out the one you used before and getting up any bits that have burned on), add back the olive oil and a couple of tablespoons more–so you have a layer about 1/4 inch thick over the bottom. Set the skillet back on the heat, medium now, and when the oil is sizzling, turn in the egg mixture. Immediately start to run a palette knife around the edge and lift and gently stir the egg mixture as it firms up. (Vigorous stirring will turn this into scrambled eggs with potatoes and onions, delicious yes, but not what we’re looking for today.)

Once it’s pretty firm on top, if you are dexterous and confident in the kitchen, you can flip the tortilla the way Spanish cooks do. Take a plate that is a little larger in diameter than the skillet and set it upside down on top. Then turn skillet and plate together so that the tortilla drops onto the plate, from which you slide it back into the skillet to brown the other side. If you’re not dexterous (and I’m not), you will have turned on the oven broiler a few steps back and will now simply slide the skillet under the broiler to brown the top.

Whichever, whatever, set the tortilla aside for 15 to 30 minutes and then serve it cut into wedges. (You can transfer it to a serving platter but if you are feeding hungry olive pickers you will not even wait 15 minutes and you will serve the tortilla directly from the skillet.) You don’t have to wait for a troupe of olive pickers either–cut down the quantities, use a smaller skillet, and you can make a delicious breakfast or an ample lunch for two.

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