Marveling at simple tortilla espanola

torto1Probably the most curious item I’ve ever seen brought to a potluck was a tortilla espanola. It was served in a basket, wrapped in a towel…a potato and onion omelette, so firm it was cut in wedges and could be eaten by hand. Having consumed more eggs over my years than the average person, this dish was quite the anomaly for me. Eggs served cold? In the afternoon? Without a fork?

It was made by the wife of a co-worker at the travel guide publishing company where I was a fact-checker. A very talented editor and writer, this fellow had the kind of calming demeanor and soothing voice that made his cubicle the magnet for many an employee who needed the figurative talking in off the ledge. His potluck choice was so less comforting, The tortilla espanola was quite satisfying — thin slices of tender potato, flavorful onions, all in a sturdy triangle of hearty egg. I was sold.

But as the rube that I was (still am) I had no idea that this mild dish is one of the most popular served in Spain, often served as a light supper. And of course, then, I had no idea what tapas were and that that the tortilla espanola often made the short list of appetizer options on the exotic-sounding tapas bar menus. The name alone confounds me — a tortilla, I’d long held, was something entirely different than an omelette.

But Spanish omelette it is. Tortilla espanola is often also called tortilla de patatas. Mostly it consists of the egg, potato and onion variation, but can also include green or red pepper, ham, chorizo and other ingredients.

manche01Over the years since my first bewildered sampling, I have made my own tortilla espanola (which I cannot help but calling simply, “tortolla”). Similar to a frittata, it spends time in a skillet on the stove and then also in the oven, but despite the use of two appliances, is very easy to make. A version I made this past spring came from a dinner “kit,” provided as a trial sample from the company Blue Apron, which sends a box to your door with all the ingredients needed (including eggs!) to prep three meals I enjoyed seeing how the other half lives with such luxury, particularly in being exposed to ingredients I might normally not consider. Like the Manchego cheese included in this tortilla espanola recipe. Imported from Spain, this sheep’s milk cheese resembles Parmesan in texture and taste, only it is slightly softer with a muskier flavor. It was served with a small green salad.

potato1So pleased with this variation, I decided to create this version again, only taking the peasant route of actually going to the store and picking up my own ingredients. I was delighted to see that my market had the Manchego cheese. This would be the biggest splurge of the whole venture, and well-worth it. Also, rather than a green pepper in the Blue Apron version, I chose a sweet red.

I sliced Yukon gold potatoes into small pieces (leaving peels on) and got them cooking in a pan of olive oil. Then, I added sliced onion, pepper and garlic. Once all had cooked to a softened stage, eggs beaten with milk and grated Manchego cheese were poured evenly over the veggies while the pan is still hot, allowing the eggs to begin to set.

The entire pan is then placed in the oven for just 10 or so minutes, until all is cooked through (you can see that the edges are browned and pulling away a little from the sides of the pan. Cooking time will also vary based on the size your your skillet — I made mine in a bigger one of 12.5 inches in diameter, but if you want a thicker omelette, size down (the thickness may add to your baking time). Voila! Remove the skillet from the oven and allow it to set up a little before cutting into wedges.tortol02

All those smells of potatoes and onions irresistibly tantalizing me, I usually ate my torollas warm, only allowing them to cool as long as I could stand it. Warmer, they do require a fork, but that’s OK, because I needed that for my little side salad as well. The good news is that I had enough of the dish to eat a wedge of it cold the next day, by hand, in the old way.

Tortilla Espanola
Adapted From Blue Apron (
Serves 4

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
2 ounches Manchego cheese
1 clove garlic
1 green bell pepper
1 yellow onion
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grate the Manchego cheese. Peel and slice the garlic and onion. Remove the stem of and deseed the pepper, then thinly slice into sticks. Peel and slice the potatoes into 1/4-inch and 1-inch wide pieces.

In a large, oven safe pan (nonstick, if you have one), heat 2 teaspoons olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently. (If the pan becomes dry as the potatoes cook, you may need to add a little more oil.)

Add the onions, bell pepper and garlic and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. While the vegetables are cooking, crack the eggs into a small bowl, then lightly beat in half of the cheese and the milk until thoroughly combined.

With the pan still on medium-high heat, drizzle the vegetables with a little olive oil and pour in the egg mixture, gently flattening the vegetables into the pan. Cook for 1 minute, or until the mixture is slightly set and the edges are cooked. Bake in the oven 10 to 12 minutes, or until cooked through. (This will vary depending on the size of your pan.) Let stand for at least 5 minutes before serving. If desired, remove the tortilla from the baking dish.

Cut the tortilla into wedges and serve with a side salad, topped with the leftover cheese.

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