Some foods, especially eggs, really should be served hot out of the pan. Others taste just as good after setting a few hours. The Spanish tortilla is the perfect example of a cooked dish that can wait.
Cooked in advance, the tortilla sets on the bar at room temperature, ready to be cut into tapa portions. Or, it’s packed in a hamper for a picnic or road trip. In the days before high-speed rail travel, anybody going on a long train journey surely packed a tortilla for an afternoon merienda.
A tortilla that’s going to be eaten immediately is usually cooked so it’s still a little juicy in the center. But tortilla that’s going to be packed to go should be thoroughly cooked through. You can make tortilla a day before it’s going to be eaten and refrigerate overnight. Allow it to come to room temperature before serving.
The classic tortilla
Makes 12 tapas or 4 main dishes.
120 ml / 4 fl oz / olive oil
1 kg / 2 ¼ lb potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped onion (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
Heat the oil in a no-stick or well-seasoned frying pan (24-26 cm / 9-10 in). Add the sliced potatoes and turn them in the oil. Let them cook slowly in the oil, without browning, turning frequently. If using onions, add them when the potatoes are partially cooked. The potatoes will take 20 to 30 minutes to cook.
Beat the eggs in a bowl with the salt. Place a plate over the potatoes and drain off excess oil into a small heatproof bowl. Add the potatoes to the beaten eggs and combine well.
Add a little of the reserved oil to the frying pan and pour in the potato-egg mixture. Cook on a medium heat until set, without letting the tortilla get too brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Shake the pan to keep the tortilla from sticking.
Place a flat lid or plate over the pan, hold it tightly, and reverse the tortilla onto the plate. Add a little more oil to the pan, if necessary, and slide the tortilla back in to cook on the reverse side, about 3 minutes more. Slide out onto a serving plate.
Cut into squares for tapas or slice in wedges as a main dish. Serve hot or cold.
Tortilla with Fava Beans, Peas and Potatoes
Tortilla con Habas, Guisantes y Patatas
Fava beans and peas from my garden were the inspiration for this tortilla that also includes potatoes. The potatoes should be tender before incorporating them into the eggs and they take a while to cook. Use lots of olive oil—the potatoes absorb very little oil, but it helps them cook quickly without browning. You don’t want crisp potatoes for tortilla.
1 pound potatoes
½ cup olive oil
1 cup shelled fava beans
1 cup shelled peas
¼ cup diced Serrano ham (1 ounce)
¼ cup chopped spring onion or scallions
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Cut the potatoes into ½-inch dice. Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet. Add the potatoes. Lower the heat to medium and fry the potatoes, turning them in the oil so they cook evenly. Cook potatoes, without letting them brown, until they are tender, about 15 minutes.
Place a heatproof strainer over a heatproof bowl. Carefully pour the oil and potatoes into the strainer, letting the oil drain into the bowl. Reserve the oil.
While potatoes are frying, blanch the fava beans in boiling water and drain. Blanch the peas in boiling water and drain.
Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved oil to the skillet. Sauté the ham, onion and garlic for 1 minute. Add the fava beans and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the peas and sauté for 2 minutes more.
Beat the eggs in a bowl with the salt. Stir the fried potatoes into the eggs. Stir the favas and peas into the eggs.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the skillet. Pour in the eggs and vegetables. Lower heat to medium and let the tortilla set on the bottom without browning. Don’t stir the eggs. Use a heatproof spatula to firm the edges of the tortilla.
When the egg is almost set, remove the skillet from the heat. Place a flat plate or pan lid on top of the tortilla and, working over a bowl to catch any drips, very carefully reverse the tortilla on to the plate.
Then, slide the tortilla back into the skillet to cook on the reverse side.
Lift the edge of the tortilla with a spatula and carefully slide it out of the skillet onto a serving dish.
Strain the remaining cooking oil and use it another time.
Tortilla de Berenjena
This tortilla is typical of Murcia, which is known for its market gardens. With no potatoes, it’s quicker to prepare than a classic tortilla. Make it with any combination of eggplant, zucchini and roasted peppers. To save time, I used roasted peppers from the grocery store. Canned ones could be used too.
Unlike potatoes, which absorb very little olive oil while cooking, eggplant absorbs a lot. A smaller quantity of oil is needed for this recipe.
4 cups eggplant cut in ½-inch dice (1 medium eggplant)
1 ½ cups zucchini cut in ¼-inch dice (½ zucchini)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
½ cups grated tomatoes (1 small tomato
1 ½ cups roasted red peppers, cut in strips (about 3 peppers)
1 ½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of oregano
Red pepper flakes (optional)
On a high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet. Add the onion and eggplant and fry, turning, until eggplant is lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Lower heat and add the zucchini. Sauté 3 minutes more. Add the tomato pulp and strips of red pepper. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, oregano and red pepper flakes, if using. Cook until vegetables are soft and most of the liquid has cooked away, about 10 minutes.
Carefully ladle the vegetables into a strainer and allow to drain for 5 minutes. (Save the liquid for another use.) Wipe out the skillet.
Beat the eggs and ½ teaspoon salt in a bowl. Mix the fried eggplant mixture into the eggs.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil and pour in the egg and vegetable mixture. Turn the heat down to medium and let the tortilla cook until set, about 10 minutes. Use the back of a spatula to firm the sides. Shake the skillet occasionally to make sure the tortilla is not sticking on the bottom.
Working over a bowl to catch any drips, place a flat plate or pan lid on top of the tortilla and, very carefully, reverse the skillet to turn the tortilla onto the plate.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet and slide the tortilla back into the pan to cook the reverse side, about 3 minutes.
Use the spatula to lift the edge of the tortilla and slide it out of the pan onto a serving plate.