I have eaten tortilla, that ubiquitous Spanish dish made from eggs, onions, and potatoes, hundreds of times in my life. Some were good but a lot were bad, spoiled by being made with pre-cooked potatoes, or too much potato. Like all the simplest dishes, especially the eggy ones like scrambled eggs and omelettes, cooking a good tortilla depends on the method you use. I learned to make tortillas thanks to my first husband who had studied Spanish and spent a year teaching in Galicia. To my mind, his recipe is the best I have come across and it’s one of the few things I still have from my first short-lived marriage…
About a year after we split up, I was at a bit of a cross-roads and wanted some ‘time out’ to think about life. Having saved up some money, I asked him if I could borrow his small house in the village of Gualchos in Andalucía to escape London. He was kind and said “Yes” and so I got to spend several months in southern Spain in a white-washed pueblo house with a view looking down across terraces of orange trees and almonds to the Mediterranean.
I was on a very tight budget and, with no car, my diet was determined by what I could buy or barter in the village. Concha, a tiny wizened lady who lived a little further up the narrow street, kept hens and via sign language (my Spanish wasn’t very good), she let me know that she would give me eggs in return for any spare bread to feed her hens. Spare bread I had in plenty! The village baker only sold the most enormous loaves which he baked in an ancient brick oven and I could never finish a loaf before it went stale, so this bartering arrangement worked very well. Concha’s hens got the stale bread and, in return, I was given the most beautiful brown eggs with the darkest yellow yolks. Perfect for making tortillas.
Tortilla is a brilliant stand-by meal and it keeps very well. In fact I prefer eating it cold the second day. But if you think it’s just an ‘egg, onion and potato omelette’, think again. The fourth ingredient that is really essential for making a good tortilla is the olive oil. It’s not just cooked in it – it’s actually integral to the taste so use the best olive oil you have and be extremely generous with it because it makes all the difference.
“I make tortilla a couple of times a month as I find it a great way of using up leftovers. Frying a small amount of chorizo and onion then adding in celeriac puree or any veg leftover. I’d probably dot with cherry tomatoes as well, just for colour – a sacrilegious version! – Judi”
Tortilla – for 4-6, preparation time 20 mins.
2 large potatoes, use a floury variety like Maris Piper or Agata
2 large onions
5-6 organic eggs
Very good organic olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
Don’t bother peeling the potatoes, just make sure they’re washed, then slice and cut them into small cubes (1-2 cm). Peel and chop the onions into similar size chunks.
Take a non-stick frying pan and fill it with a veritable ‘lake’ of olive oil and put it on a low heat to warm up. I like a thinner tortilla so tend to use a large one. You can get a thicker tortilla simply by reducing the size of your pan, but you have to cook it slightly longer to get it cooked in the centre.
Tip the potatoes and onions into a large bowl and mix them together well with your hands before tipping them carefully into the now hot oil. Stir the mixture around so everything is drenched in olive oil, then cover the pan with a large lid. Leave on a low to medium heat for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, add the pepper and sea salt, stir the potatoes and onions again, and put the lid back on. It should take another 5-7 minutes – you want the potato to become soft but not brown and crispy.
When the onions and potatoes are cooked, take the pan off the heat and using a slatted spoon, scoop out the potato/onion mixture and put it into the large bowl. Now pour away all that lovely olive oil, leaving a fine sheen of oil in the pan.
“You can re-use this oil at least one more time, you just need to let it cool down and keep it in a clean bottle (not the one from which it came).”
Take your eggs and break them into another bowl – I ended up using five rather than six – it just depends on the size of eggs/potatoes. Beat the eggs and then pour them over the onion/potato mixture and stir gently so that it all combines.
Put the pan back on the heat and pour the tortilla mix into the pan. Gently flatten the mix across the pan making sure it’s well distributed. Keep the gas at a medium heat and cook gently for about 5-7 minutes until it starts looking firm-ish. If you have a very large plate, you can then slide the tortilla out of the pan at this point and flip it over back into the pan. Out in Spain, I had no grill so became adept at this, but now I cheat, and when it’s cooked on the bottom, I finish it off under the grill for a similar time, around 5 minutes.
Leave the tortilla for at least half an hour before serving – it never tastes as good when it’s hot out of the pan. I like serving it with tomatoes drenched in olive oil or a fresh green salad. You can also use it for serving tapas, cut into thin wedges to accompany an icy cold fino sherry.