When we moved from Spain to California, I was so confused. In San Diego, right there cheek by jowl with Mexico, a tortilla is a flatbread, like so:
But where I had lived, in southern Spain, a tortilla is more like this:
“That’s a fritatta”, you say. Yeah, exactly. But the Spanish version is called a tortilla, is one of the comfort foods of my childhood, and nearly always contains potatoes. Maria won’t even talk to you if you leave the potatoes out.
Maria was the woman who took care of us a few days a week while mom was out playing bridge with the Officers’ Wives. I have a couple of Maria Foods among my Mom Food collection, and this is one of them. I’ll have to tell you some day about Maria’s Soup, which I love, but which no one else seems to like.
Our four years on a Navy base in Spain were my brush with the upper middle class. My dad was an officer in the Navy, and got extra pay for being overseas, along with a nice house on base. So we had a nice house and enough money for my mother to have help. So instead of yelling at us to clean our rooms, she made fudge and Knox Blox, and cooked breakfasts like this one. Understandably, everyone in my family remembers our years in Spain as the best ever.
We need to talk a little about olive oil. No tortilla is even worth eating if it’s not cooked practically swimming in good olive oil. Where we lived in Spain, olives were so ubiquitous that both olives and olive oil were dirt-cheap, so we ate a LOT of both, and my lifelong addictions to both were born. My dad dislikes olives and pickles. I was always willing to take them off his hands.
My mom likes to make her tortillas with kitchen sink included: she adds ham, bell peppers, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, and whatever else is in the fridge waiting to be used up. Me, I prefer the basic, simple potato-and-onion version that Maria made.
We must have eaten this three times a week for that four-year tour, and I never got tired of it. My favorite thing is to make enough for leftovers, and then eat it cold with lots of salt the next day, but the teenager LOVES tortilla, so there’s rarely any left. Maybe I need to buy a bigger pan, like the one my mom used to have to use when she was feeding our hungry family of six.
Tortilla de Patatas
You can add in any veggies you want, and my mom thinks it’s really best with a half cup of grated Parmesan. The basic version, though, is not only my favorite, but it’s the cheapest and easiest to make.
lots of olive oil (as much as 1/2 cup or more)
1-2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 onion, chopped
6-9 eggs, depending on the size of your pan
In an oven-safe frying pan, cook onions, potatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and whatever other veggies you want (mushrooms? peppers?) in a few tablespoons of olive oil until they’re soft enough to eat but not mushy. My mom adds meats — ham, etc. — but I don’t like that. Set the veggies off the heat while you prepare the eggs. You want the veggies to cool for at least a few minutes.
While the veggies are cooling, beat eggs in a bowl. For my smaller frying pan, I use 6 eggs; for the big one, usually 9 to 12. It’s not that important; multiply the number of people you’re feeding by the number of eggs you want per person, and add a couple, is my advice.
Add cheese to the eggs if you want. When I use it, I usually use grated or shredded parmesan, 1/2 to 1 cup, but any cheese will do, either grated or cut into small pieces. This is great if you have not quite enough eggs for the number of people you’re feeding, but you do have some extra cheese.
Add the still-warm-but-not-piping-hot veggies to the egg mixture and mix it all together. Now, in the same pan you cooked the veggies in, add a bunch more olive oil. Use a LOT. Enough that there’s a decent layer (maybe 1/8 to 1/4 inch) on the bottom of your pan. When you pour the eggs in, you want the oil to kind of pool up a little on top. Trust me on this. Yes, it’s a lot, but without a lot of olive oil, this is just an omelette. Heat the oil for a minute. Then add the egg mixture all at once.
Cook on medium-low heat, uncovered, without disturbing, until the bottom is golden brown and the top has started to set, around 20 minutes, then stick the whole thing under the broiler for a few minutes until the top is golden brown as well. (Some people flip the thing out onto a plate, put it back in the pan, and fry the other side, but that’s too much trouble for me; I shared this tip with my mom, and now this is how she does it, too.)
If you’re concerned about fat content, flip the tortilla onto a plate covered in a few layers of paper towels for a couple minutes before serving. Otherwise, just cut into wedges and serve with salt.