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Friday, March 20, 2015

Tortilla Español---New World with Old World Heritage

                                            Classic tortilla Español with Spain's Piquillo peppers

Tomorrow I’m conducting a Spanish cooking class in Florida.  For the appetizer I’m demonstrating Spain’s tortilla Español (a quasi-omelette filled with potatoes and onions).  The tortilla, which appears on every restaurant’s menu, is also a mainstay of every tapas bar in the country.  The best rendition of this traditional starter that I have ever had (after more than a dozen trips to Spain) was in the Ribera del Duero wine country.  I was so impressed with this version that I talked the chef into sharing his recipe during a cooking class the following year when I returned with a group.

How Spaniards named their most popular dish the tortilla has always puzzled me.  Spain’s cuisine does not use traditional tortillas.  In fact, Spaniards had never even seen corn until the Conquistadors arrived in Mexico.  I recently heard a story that makes a lot of sense to me and it goes something like this… 

The Aztec Empire made flat rounds of yellowish bread from ground corn.  Spanish explorers were taken with this new flavored bread, but had no such word in their vocabulary to describe it.  As it reminded the Conquistadors of the omelette in their native homeland (round in shape and yellow in color), the Spaniards gave this unknown bread the name “tortilla” as it looked similar to the tortilla back home Spain. According to this theory, the Mexican tortilla was actually named after the potato omelette in Spain, based on its association of shape and color.

Here’s the actual recipe I cooked today which I learned during the professional cooking class in Spain some years ago from chef Pedro.  The only thing I changed was the addition of my beloved Piquillo peppers from Spain (very mild, smoky, flavor-chocked red peppers, now thankfully available in the US).

  • 2 lbs potatoes, sliced thinly
  • 2 cups extra virgin olive oil (can be used later for sauteeing other items)
  • 6-7 eggs (depending on size)
  • 1 lb onions, sliced thinly  (white or brown)
  • 1-2 cloves minced garlic (depending on size)
  • 8 oz jar of Piquillo peppers, drained & cut into strips
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Place olive oil in a skillet and heat to a moderate temperature (do not get it anywhere ner smoking level or it will oxidize).  Add the potatoes and cook for 30 minutes on moderate heat, allowing potatoes to slightly brown on all sides.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  Next, sautee the onions in olive oil over moderate heat, cooking about 5 minutes.  Lower the heat, add the garlic and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Remove and add to the drained potatoes.  Strain the olive oil and refrigerate for later use.

Beat the eggs in a bowl with salt and pepper.

Return back 2-3 tablespoons of the strained oil to a non-stick skillet.  Heat the oil to a moderately high heat (but again avoid that smoking point.)  Add the egg mixture and turn down the heat immediately.  Next, add the potatoes, onions and strips of Piquillos...making sure all of these items are submerged in the egg mixture.  Cook over moderately low heat until the top of the tortilla is almost set.  Put a large plate over the skillet and then turn the skillet over quickly so that the tortilla slips on to the plate.  Turn up the heat, add a few more tablespoons of oil to the skillet, immediately lowering the heat once again.  Cook an additional 5 or so minutes until the tortilla is totally cooked through.

Typically a tortilla Español  is served at room temperature in a wedge shape.  While it is often served as a tapa, it can also be served as an entree---a simple mixed salad is a perfect accompaniment.

Viva España!

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