Submitted by George Warner of Chestnut Hill’s architecture firm Warner + Cunningham. As a longtime advertiser and friend, George gets his copies of Edible Boston in the mail. I have many egg recipes, and all of them have a connection to Spain where I have many cousins. When I was eight years old, we lived in Spain for the entire summer. When I was 21, I was lucky enough to study there for a year. In Spain, the tortilla, or omelet, is widely available in many styles and varieties. For a country where they stay up late and drink heartily, there are surprisingly few choices for breakfast! I would rely on the small wedges of tortilla that are available at bars everywhere, and I mean everywhere: every town, every train station, every few blocks in every town. The tortilla was usually day-old and kept at room temperature under a glass cover like one that you would see over a cake or pie in small diners here in the United States.
My favorite bar in Madrid was in a basement, and had no chairs or tables, only a counter around the perimeter. They served beer, spicy hot potatoes, and over 20 varieties of tortilla. That is all. And it was packed wall-to-wall every evening! If Hemingway thought that Paris was a “Moveable Feast,” then he would surely agree that the Spanish tortilla is as well. It is a favorite for picnics since it needs no refrigeration for a day. At school, many of my classmates would bring tortillas that their host mothers had prepared for lunch. My favorite was one made with chorizo that one friend’s mother would prepare from time to time.
So here is how it is done:
The most basic tortilla is made from only potatoes, onions, and eggs of course. To this basic version, I like to add chopped parsley.
For a 4-egg tortilla you need 2 or 3 big Russet potatoes. Peel them and cut them into thin slices about ¼ inch thick. Stack these slices and cut them into chunks about ⅜” wide in one direction and in half in the other direction. This gives you chunks about ¼” x ⅜” x ¾”. Cook these in olive oil over medium heat for about 15 minutes. (No, you cannot use another type of oil and call it a Spanish tortilla!) They should get soft and just begin to brown on the edges. Dice up a yellow onion and cook those in the oil for about 5 minutes to take the bite out of them and soften them up. Season the vegetables with salt to taste.
If you are doing this in the morning you can precook the onions and potatoes the evening before and leave them in the fridge. Once the potatoes and onions are ready, you mix them into a bowl of 4 eggs that have been beaten thoroughly and seasoned with salt. Stir in a small handful of chopped parsley. It should look like there are not enough eggs: the eggs are the glue, not the main volume.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, swirl it around the pan to get it up onto the sides. Pour the egg-potato mix into the middle of the pan and let the oil get displaced up and out to the edges and sides. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the edges are starting to firm up. The middle should be pretty runny still. If you smell that it is burning, then it is time to flip it.
The flipping is a real art, or at least it is dramatic. First, run a fork around the edges to make sure that the tortilla is not stuck to the pan. Shake the pan a little side to side to help loosen it, and if needed you can run a fork down the side and under the bottom to free things up. Invert a dinner plate over the top of the pan. Now, with one hand on the handle and the other on the plate, flip the tortilla over and onto the plate. This should be an up-and-over motion that ends abruptly to knock the tortilla free. It should be a good-looking color of cooked, but not burnt. Now slide the tortilla back into the pan to cook the new bottom side. This should take much less time than the first side, 1 to 2 minutes, maybe even less. Now flip it again onto the plate or simply slide it out of the pan. Pick whichever side looks better and leave that one facing up.
Tortillas can be made with 2 to 12 eggs. The thicker and bigger you go, the lower the heat should be and the more time it will take. Covering it as it cooks helps if you have a deep pan and lots of eggs.
Some of my favorite variations are to add chorizo, sun dried tomatoes, and cheese; slightly cooked green or red and yellow peppers like the Spanish flag; zucchini; golden beets. The possibilities are wide open. Still, the simple, plain version, served at room temperature, is a taste that always reminds me of the best of Spain and the special way in which Spaniards savor the simple pleasures in life.