When I was in the ninth grade, my parents took my brother and me on a trip to Spain. I remember eating a lot of lamb chops, French fries and oranges (just picked from trees growing in the city plazas), and there was one extraordinary lunch that overflowed with fried fish and garlic soup, but mostly I remember eating Spanish tortillas. Unlike tortillas in Latin and South America, which are generally made from corn or wheat dough, the typical Spanish tortilla is actually a type of omelet (or frittata, as the Italians would call it), most commonly filled with sliced or cubed potato. Spanish tortillas are a mainstay of “tapas,” which are small snack-sized dishes of all kinds that Spaniards consume with wine in the late afternoon and early evenings, before eating a very late supper, often at 10pm or even later.
I suspect that because my brother and I were too young and jet-lagged to stay up for a true Spanish supper, we ended up eating a lot of tortillas because that’s something all the restaurants already had prepared and ready to offer when we went to dinner at 7:30 or 8pm.
After that trip it was a long time before I learned how to make Spanish style tortillas, but after encountering them in restaurants in recent years, I remembered how much I liked them and decided to figure it out at home. It is fairly quick and easy to make and tastes great cold or at room temperature, so lately it has become one of my go-tos for picnics and potlucks. It travels well, can be cut into any size or shape, can be eaten as finger food or with a fork, and it pleases a crowd, so there’s never any leftovers to be packed up and schlepped home.
So I suppose this recipe represents me not only because it harks back to some of my formative childhood experiences with food; it also represents the simplicity and versatility in cooking that has become increasingly necessary to me as I try to balance work and family and still maintain some shred of a social life. Sure, it may be a social life that currently revolves around streaming Netflix, toddler birthday parties and once-in-a-season picnics in the park, but it’s better than nothing . . .
1 medium yellow onion, chopped in ½ inch dice
1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
½ lb small white or red potatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes
½ cup and ¼ cup olive oil
handful of finely chopped fresh parsley (optional), or other fresh savory herbs (such as oregano, marjoram, rosemary or thyme)
salt and pepper to taste
Warm a medium skillet (well-seasoned cast iron or nonstick, as long as it is oven-safe) over medium heat. When it’s approaching hot (you can hold your hand a few inches above the pan but not for very long), pour in ½ cup olive oil. Add the onion, garlic and potatoes, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, taking care not to let the potatoes stick or fall apart while being turned. Once the mixture begins to turn a light golden brown on all sides, add salt and pepper to taste, cover and turn the heat down to low. Let cook slowly for another 5-10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender (the moisture from being covered will help steam them through). Scrape the mixture into a separate bowl and let cool for a few minutes.
At this time, preheat your broiler to HIGH.
Wipe any sticky or burned bits out of the skillet and warm again over medium heat. Crack the eggs into another bowl and add salt, pepper and parsley, and whisk lightly with a fork. Add the ¼ cup olive oil to the skillet and swirl to coat the bottom and sides. Pour half of the egg mixture into the skillet and tilt to coat the bottom evenly. Quickly and gently add the potato mixture on top of the eggs, spreading into an even layer across the whole surface of the eggs. Then pour the remaining egg mixture on top of the potatoes and tilt the pan again so the eggs flow into the pockets and crevices between the potatoes. Let cook on the stovetop for another 2-3 minutes so the bottom sets, and then put the skillet in the broiler for 2-3 minutes to set the top. As soon as the top is set and light golden, pull the skillet out and let cool on the stovetop for a few minutes. When the tortilla is no longer piping hot, gently slide out of the skillet (make sure it will dislodge by first sliding a thin spatula underneath in a few spots) onto a serving plate.
The tortilla can be served hot, warm or room temperature, or it can be covered (once cooled) and refrigerated for up to one day. Cut into wedges or cubes just before serving. Goes well with Spanish sherry or any type of light dry wine!