Home Cooking: Tortilla Española

  • Gigantic tortilla española made by Ana Díaz-Marcos. Contributed/Photo by Amelia Sánchez 

For the Gazette 
Published: 7/23/2020 1:57:14 PM

I seem to be on a Spanish kick of late, which is a good thing, as Spain’s cooking is wonderful. A ubiquitous dish served all year round is the thick potato-onion-egg omelet known as Tortilla Española, which has nothing whatever to do with Mexican tortillas.

What I am talking about is simplicity itself: olive oil, chopped onion, sliced potatoes, eggs, salt and pepper. In Spain, it is served in wedges, hot or at room temperature, a favorite tapa (snack) in unfancy wine bars.

When I was a professor of Spanish at UMass, I often had parties for the graduate students, with several tortilla experts among these. I am still friends with many of them, and we have gotten together for what we call “a tortillada,” a communal fixing of this dish. We did this last summer, with Ana Díaz-Marcos and Silvia Navia as well as UMass faculty member Márgara Russotto reprising a similar event of probably 15 years ago.  

Here’s my tortilla recipe:

1/3 cup good quality olive oil

2-3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced fairly finely. I use Yukon Golds.

1 small chopped yellow onion

4-5 eggs, beaten

½ tsp salt, ground black pepper

8-inch nonstick skillet

Directions: Heat skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and slide potatoes into it. Let the oil cover the potatoes, and cook them gently in the oil without letting them brown until they are tender (about 15 minutes). Add the chopped onion when the potatoes are about half done. Stir occasionally, and chop up the potatoes with a spatula.

Drain the vegetables in a fine-mesh colander over a deep bowl, saving the oil. Place the eggs, salt and pepper in another bowl, then combine with the potato-onion mixture. Heat reserved oil over medium heat, then slide in the egg and potato mixture, shaking the pan to keep it from sticking. Use a small spatula to keep the rim of the omelet from sticking, and tilt the pan to let the egg mixture run underneath the tortilla. When the tortilla is getting firm, take a plate larger than your skillet and invert the tortilla onto it. Slide it and any oil back into the skillet, and cook for a few minutes more. If you like the tortilla a bit runny, as I do, poke it with your finger to test the texture, or cook it until it is firm all the way through. Invert the tortilla again onto a serving plate.

Serves two as a main course, or four as an appetizer. A green salad is perfect with it. Ana Díaz-Marcos is braver than I: She flipped a tortilla made with 10 potatoes and eight eggs.

The history of this dish is interesting, too: A recipe for an egg omelet can be found in a 1611 cookbook by the royal chef Francisco Martínez Montiño, but the first written references to a potato and egg tortilla are from 1817.

Nina M. Scott is a retired professor of Spanish from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she taught for 34 years. She and her husband, Jim, have lived in Amherst since 1968. Writing is one of her great joys.


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