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Spanish tortilla

If the word "tortilla" only makes you think of the thin corn and wheat flatbreads used to wrap Mexican burritos and tacos, you may want to reboot your food dictionary.

In Spain, the same word (literally "little cake") refers to something else entirely, something even more delicious. The Spanish tortilla is often described as the Iberian equivalent of a French omelet or Italian frittata, but in my opinion this misses the mark: A true Spanish tortilla is as much about potato as it is about egg - it's not so much an omelet filled with potatoes as it is a delicious potato dish bathed in fruity olive oil and bound with egg into a succulent, savory cake.

Although a tortilla requires a little more work than an omelet, it's a fairly straightforward procedure, and it yields a tasty treat that makes an outstanding lunch or even a light summer dinner. Unlike an omelet, it's best served at room temperature ... I've found a few wedges cooked the night before can make a great snack on a long airplane trip, making you the envy of your seatmates as you enjoy your tortilla while they're lunching on packets of peanut-free trail mix.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

3 small baking potatoes or 6 small new potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 sweet yellow or white onion
2 cloves garlic
4 eggs
Black pepper


1. Peel the potatoes, halve or quarter them if they're large, and slice them thin, 1/8-inch (3 mm) or less. Waxy boiling potatoes work best; when I use baking potatoes, I like to let them soak in water for 15 or 20 minutes, then pour off the water and pat them dry before using.

2. Chop the onion fine and mince the garlic. Break the eggs into a bowl, add 4 tablespoons water, and mix with a fork, adding salt and pepper to taste.

3. Put the oils in a skillet or sautee pan over medium heat. (For easy work, I strongly recommend using a nonstick omelet pan for this dish.) When they're hot enough that a piece of potato dropped in instantly sizzles, put in all the potatoes, stir to separate, and fry them gently. You don't want them brown and crunchy, so watch the heat and try to keep them sizzling without browning. It should take about 8 to 12 minutes to cook them through. Lift out the potatoes and let them drain on paper towels. After the oil cools, you can strain and reserve it for another use.

4. Using just a bit of the oil, cook the onions and garlic over medium-low heat, again taking care to avoid browning them. When the vegetables are cooked through, let them cool a bit. Then stir the potatoes, onions and garlic into the eggs. Try to avoid breaking up the potatoes, but don't be obsessive about it; it doesn't matter if a few break or mash.

5. Put the omelet pan back over medium-high heat with a little more of the oil - you shouldn't need more than a teaspoon or so in a nonstick pan - and pour the egg and potato mix in all at once, spreading it gently with the back of a wooden spoon. Leave on a medium-high flame for a minute or so until the bottom sets; then reduce heat to medium low and let it cook, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes, by which time you should notice that the eggs have pretty much cooked through, although they may still be soft at the center. Jiggle the pan, coaxing the tortilla gently with a spatula if necessary, to make sure it will slide free.

6. Now, taking care not to burn yourself, put a large plate over the top of the pan and, holding pan and plate together firmly, flip the pan over so the tortilla will fall onto the plate, cooked side up. Put the pan back on the fire and slide the inverted tortilla back into the pan to cook on the other side for another 5 minutes or so. (If it becomes a little malformed in the flipping process, don't worry, just nudge it gently back into a neat circle.)

7. To serve, slide the tortilla onto a large serving plate and cut it into wedges with a sharp knife or pizza cutter. You can eat it piping hot, but the flavors seem to come together best if you let it come down to warm room temperature - or even keep it in the refrigerator overnight.

MATCHING WINE: Either a rich white or a fruity red will work fine with this dish, and a pleasant, food-friendly Spanish wine would make ethnic sense. We served it with a pair of French whites that I had on deck for a blind tasting - a decidedly modest but surprisingly complex Chardonnay from the Loire (Goulaine 2001 Chardonnay Vin de Pays du Jardin de La France) and an excellent Sauvignon Blanc (Pascal Jolivet 2003 Sancerre). It went well with both, but in my opinion the richer, more full-bodied Chardonnay made the better match.

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of these recipes, suitable for printing, online at

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Thursday, June 24, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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