We’ve made a lot of different versions of these big, Spanish-style omelettes at Café Paradiso over the years. Sometimes, if we stray too far from the basic potato egg thing, we use the Italian word ‘frittata’ instead. The Spanish are very fussy about their classic, simple food being messed with; the Italians only pretend to be. This recipe is a straightforward version, with only the addition of some herbs. Once you can make this, you can experiment away to your heart’s content. I learned to make a Spanish tortilla from a young woman in the Basque country. She was talking and moving fast, but I think I got the gist. The potatoes are important. Spanish recipes recommend using floury potatoes, and what they mean by floury our mothers wouldn’t let inside the door! I’ve found that the perfect potato for tortilla is a Red Rooster, registering at halfway on the floury scale. This recipe will feed as many people as you need it to, ideally five or six.
SLOWLY HEAT A HEAVY FRYING PAN and pour in about half an inch of olive oil. Thinly slice the onion and garlic. Cut the potatoes into pieces about the length of a matchstick and twice as thick - a very thin chip. Add the potatoes, onion and garlic to the pan and turn up the heat so that the potatoes are practically deep-frying. They will need a bit of attention at this stage to prevent them sticking to the pan or to each other.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Keep returning to the eggs for an occasional whisk, while the potatoes cook. When the potatoes are soft on the inside and beginning to colour, strain off most of the oil and tip them with the herbs and lots of salt and pepper into the egg, stirring briskly - the heat of the potatoes will begin to cook the egg, but that’s to your advantage if it happens evenly rather than scrambling in spots, so pay attention and move quickly at this stage.
Wipe the pan with a towel, brush it with a thin coat of clean olive oil and return it to the stove, over a low heat this time. Pour in the egg mixture and use a slice or spatula to tuck down the edge and flatten the top. Leave it for five minutes or so before lifting the edge to have a peek at the bottom. Ideally, with a low, even heat and a fine thick, well-seasoned pan, the tortilla will be quite set most of the way to the top when the bottom begins to brown. Loosen the tortilla with the slice or spatula, slide it out on to a large plate, invert the pan over the tortilla and quickly flip the whole lot over so that the top of the tortilla is now nestling in the pan. A few minutes over low heat should finish the cooking - in fact, I often turn the heat off and leave the pan over the cooling stove for about five minutes. If the bottom is browning but the tortilla is still wet, a useful idea is to put the pan under a grill for a few minutes to set the top, before going ahead with the flip. Slide the tortilla back on to the plate before slicing it - you don’t want to damage your precious pan.
© 1999 All rights reserved. Published by Cork University Press.