When I was seventeen, I was fortunate enough to go on a school trip to Spain. We visited Seville, Barcelona, and Madrid. Spain is very beautiful. The landscape was similar to California, but to experience the differences in culture was life changing. I loved the pastel colored smooth plastered buildings, the churches, and the cobblestone streets. I studied Spanish at the time and appreciated being able to use my skills in a real life setting; although, I did get to practice in Los Angeles every now and then too. I asked for “agua sin gas” which is non carbonated water or water without gas. I thought that was a clever description. It was spring, and we arrived during holy week. The parades and night time candlelit festivals were beyond belief. We watched as people walked in procession wearing hoods and cloaks while holding giant candles.
I found it difficult to get used to certain things in Spain. I couldn’t eat the big American breakfast of eggs and bacon which I really loved. I couldn’t find a Perkins anywhere or anything that even resembled a Denny’s. I didn’t understand having a breakfast of crusty bread and coffee. However, now I really appreciate freshly baked crusty bread with creamy butter and I am mad about hot, dark, coffee. I was astonished to discover that everything was closed at lunch time. People shut down the restaurants and shops to go home for a siesta. Seventeen year olds, especially ones in another country with a bunch of friends, do not siesta. Now, I think this would be a great tradition to begin implementing here in Southern Minnesota. I read the other day that siestas are very beneficial to your health. We should all be able to nap mid day. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?
However, once I discovered the food in Spain, sometime after 3 p.m., it was well worth the wait. We ate in outdoor cafes overlooking the ocean, in plazas situated in the middle of the city, or in candlelit restaurants in and around villages. I tasted paella (a seafood medley served with rice), mussels in white wine sauce, and polverones (a type of pastry). Everything tasted so fresh and delicious. A couple of days ago, I spoke on the phone with one of my friends, Suzie, who went on this trip with me. She reminded me of a dish that we both loved in Spain. Most nights, she and I would order this for our dinner. The dish is called tortilla de patatas. Since my trip to Spain, I have also heard it called a Spanish omelet and a Tortilla Espanola. Whatever you want to call it, it is delicious. It’s odd because Claud has been making me these for years and for some reason, I didn’t connect it with what I ate in Spain. It wasn’t until Suzie reminded me that I realized we were making this dish that I so loved when I was there.
The tortilla de patatas has nothing to do with a tortilla, as we know the word. It is really a fluffy egg and potato dish cooked in olive oil. Legend has it, that an 18th Century Spanish general stopped by a farm house and asked the house wife to cook a meal for his troops. All she had were some eggs, potatoes and onions. She combined them into what is now called the tortilla de patatas and the general was pleased with the tasty result. Who wouldn’t be?
The potatoes are lightly fried in olive oil and the onions are sautéed in olive oil as well. At that point, you can be creative and add garlic, mushrooms, and/or red peppers. I have even seen some recipes where shrimp is added. I bet it would be magical with a little smoky bacon. In this recipe, I added garlic and sweet red peppers. I wanted to make sure Daphne would eat it. But, maybe one night when she is away at a friend’s house, I can try the bacon idea. There is something delectable in the way, when you fry everything up on high heat in the olive oil, the crispy parts of the egg just melt in your mouth. Claud and I always top it with a dollop of sour cream and drizzle on some balsamic vinegar. Sometimes, we make a little salad of sliced tomatoes and basil on the side. It is fantastic.
Tortilla de patatas/ tortilla espanola:
Time: 30 minutes
1 large sweet red pepper
1 yellow onion
1 clove of garlic
1 C. olive oil, divided (possibly more)
¼ C. milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice onion and pepper. Coarsely chop the garlic. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a pan on medium high. Sauté the onion, pepper and garlic until onion is clear. Remove from pan and set aside. Add 2 more Tbsp. olive oil. Add the potatoes. Keep moving them around so they do not stick. Cook for ten minutes flipping them over. You do not want them to be brown and crispy, just cooked through. Whisk together eggs, milk and a dash of salt and pepper. Remove the cooked potatoes from the pan. Pour the rest of the oil into the pan (1/4 inch). Heat on high and watch that it doesn’t smoke. Mix the potatoes and vegetables into the egg mixture. Carefully pour into the oil. Cook for five minutes. Flip this over. We flipped it in pieces. If you are very clever, you can try to flip it with a plate over the top. You can also place the entire skillet in the oven and let the top broil and brown. If you flip it in pieces, you have to shake the pan again to let it all settle. It will form back into one piece again. Cook for five minutes on this side. Flip it out onto a platter. Cool and slice. Enjoy.