Quick, easy, made with ingredients every cook has to hand, Spanish tortilla, tortilla española, is perfect fare for these late spring evenings when you can feel summer’s in the air. After a long New England winter, I can’t think of anything better than supper on the porch with a wedge of tortilla, a glass or two of rosé, and a simple green salad to finish.
Is this the height of Spanish gastronomy? I think so. It’s the humblest of food and the richest too, with potatoes and onions gently sautéed in olive oil, then combined with eggs to make a flat omelet. A tortilla is a cottage sort of recipe, something peasant farmwives whip up for their hungry menfolk when they come in from the fields. (I’d be willing to bet Ferran Adria’s wife gets the tortilla pan going when he comes home from a late night at El Bulli.) It’s also the favorite offering in tapas bars throughout Spain. Back in the day it was always served at room temperature. Nowadays, because of European sanitary laws, tortilla must be served either stone cold or reheated in a microwave, inevitably detracting from its sumptuous nature. But if you can make it at home—and it’s easy to do—it makes a delicious light supper, a terrific after-school snack for hungry kids, or a welcome addition to a copious Sunday breakfast or brunch.
Here’s how to make a tortilla for four people (the recipe comes from my most recent book, Virgin Territory):
take 2 medium potatoes, peel them, and slice about ¼ inch thick; do the same with a yellow onion, only instead of slicing it, chop it coarsely. Get out your black iron skillet, or similar heavy-duty frying pan, and add to it 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, preferably a top Spanish oil such as Castillo de Canena, Marques de Valdueza, or Dauro. Set the pan with the oil over medium heat and add the sliced potatoes. Let the potatoes cook until they are almost tender. Add in the chopped onions and stir, then use a spatula to chop the potatoes in the pan. If you further chop some of the onions at the same time, it’s no problem.
Why don’t you chop the potatoes before you put them in the pan in the first place? I don’t know. This is the way they do it in Spain.
When the vegetables are nice and tender, sprinkle a liberal quantity of salt and some black pepper over them, stir them again, and then drain them in a sieve over a bowl to catch the fragrant olive oil.
In another bowl, beat up about half a dozen eggs—if you have really hearty eaters, add a couple more. Then stir in the drained potatoes and onions.
Back in the skillet, add in about ¼ cup of the oil you used for frying. Tilt the skillet to run the oil all over the bottom and sides, then set it over medium heat and as soon as it starts to sizzle, tip in the egg mixture, again tilting the pan to make it even all around. Cook the tortilla over medium to medium-low heat, using a small palette knife to run around the edge of the eggs to loosen them from the pan and lifting the mixture gently from the bottom, letting the uncooked portion seep through. When the tortilla is almost done, but still rather liquid in the center, set a plate upside down over the frying pan and, using pot holders, flip the pan over, then slide the tortilla back into the frying pan with its uncooked top side now on the bottom. A minute or two longer will firm up the uncooked part and the tortilla is ready to serve.
If the business with the plate and the flipped frying pan sounds kind of scary, turn on the broiler unit just before you start cooking the eggs. Then, when necessary, you can run the frying pan underneath the broiler’s heat to firm up the uncooked surface of the eggs.