Before I had ever tasted a tortilla Española, the traditional Spanish potato omelet, I couldn’t imagine what the fuss was about. What could be so special about a dish made from only eggs, potatoes and onion?
Then I bit into a thick slab of it at a tapas bar, and it all made sense. It wasn’t just the eggs, potatoes and onion that gave the tortilla its character. It was the olive oil. Every bite was suffused with the good stuff. The fragrant oil flavored the potatoes and turned the onions soft and sweet.
And then there was the appealing, firm texture. Unlike a French omelet, which is loose and wobbly, or an Italian frittata, which is puffy and custardy, a tortilla is a solid cake with just enough egg to bind the vegetables. I could easily pick it up with my fingers before it disappeared down my throat.
A Spanish tortilla is not hard to make at home, and you probably have all the ingredients on hand. And you can serve it for dinner, lunch or brunch, either warm or at room temperature. The bottom line: It’s a good recipe to add to your repertory.
The first step is to make what is basically a potato and onion confit by gently cooking the sliced vegetables in plenty of olive oil. And plenty means at least a cup, or maybe two. It sounds like a lot, but most of it stays in the pan (and you can reuse it). Other than adding great flavor, the oil turns the potatoes velvety and luscious. Just make sure the heat is low enough so that the potatoes and onions cook but don’t brown very much, though a few darkened spots are fine. Then you drain them, add whisked eggs and cook them once more in the pan to form the tortilla.
My version stays pretty traditional, except for one small change. Instead of turning the tortilla out onto a plate to flip it over in the pan and brown the top, I stick the whole pan in the oven. It’s easier, and makes me less nervous about breaking it.
A potato tortilla is marvelous on its own without any embellishments. But it also goes nicely with a brightly flavored condiment or sauce. A Spanish friend once served me a tortilla with a pungent garlic mayonnaise. I have also had it served with a thick, peppery tomato sauce. In this version, I have paired it with a simple salsalike tomato and pepper salad that complements the soft, rich potatoes. One bite and you’ll understand the fuss.
Spanish Tortilla with Tomato-Pepper Salad
5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (1¼ pounds)
1 white onion, diced
1¾ teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
¾ teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
About 1½ cups extra- virgin olive oil
6 large eggs
¾ cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
∑ cup diced Italian frying pepper (also called Cubanelle), or green bell pepper
¼ cup sliced scallion, white and green parts
1 garlic clove, minced
Peel potatoes and halve them lengthwise. Thinly slice them crosswise. Pat potatoes dry with a dish towel or paper towels. Toss potatoes with onion, 1½ teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper.
Place a large skillet over medium heat and warm through. Add oil, then add potatoes and onion. (You need enough oil to almost cover the potatoes, so adjust amount according to your pan size.) Cook until potatoes are just tender enough to cut with a fork, 10 to 15 minutes, adjusting heat so vegetables do not burn or take on too much color. Using a slotted spoon, transfer potatoes and onions to a colander set over a bowl and let cool. Reserve 3½ tablespoons oil from the skillet to use for finishing the recipe. (You can reuse the rest of the remaining oil, too; store it in the refrigerator.)
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil in an oven-safe 8- to 9-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. In a large bowl, whisk eggs and season with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Stir potato mixture into eggs. Pour mixture into pan and use a spatula to flatten out surface. Cook, using spatula to occasionally loosen eggs from edges of pan, until top is almost set, with just a small amount of liquid remaining, about 5 minutes. Transfer to oven and cook until top is just set, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Slide tortilla onto a plate.
In a large bowl, toss together tomato, pepper, scallion, garlic and remaining 1½ tablespoons oil. Season with salt and pepper. Top tortilla with salad and serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 4 servings.