Things are not always what they seem, and (I hate to use an overused phrase, but it really is appropriate here) you can’t judge a book by its cover. Last Sunday I was once again reminded of this fact and how wrong our perceptions of others can be because we don’t take the time, or make the effort, to get to know those that we interact with on a regular basis.
There is so much more to most people than we see at first, or even second glance. The same is true with food, potatoes being one of these. I think of potatoes as a side dish to a meat-laden meal or as a secondary ingredient in some of my favorite soups. I don’t think of it as the main course of a meal, an easy lunch to take to the office or school, or as an elegant appetizer. But I have been wrong. In many cultures potatoes are the main course, and for good reason, they are nutritious, filling, and most importantly, delicious. (For in-depth nutrition information on potatoes and other veggies, go to http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2546/2.)
I have also been wrong about what exactly can be called a tortilla. I have always thought of a tortilla as being a corn or flour based flat bread, (you know, we feed them to our children filled with cheese and eat too many of them with salsa before our meal comes at every Mexican restaurant in town) not a potato dish.
Not long ago I was introduced to what the Spanish call a tortilla. It is essentially potatoes and eggs, cooked into a flat pancake. For those who are not purists, tortilla can be laced with any number of delicious vegetables, herbs and meats for something truly extraordinary. Tortilla is easy, healthy, and is multipurpose, good eaten hot or cold.
I love this dish because it is so versatile. It can be the main course for dinner with a salad or a bowl of soup; eaten in place of that same old sandwich at lunch; or, (just in time for the onslaught of holiday parties) as an elegant and inexpensive appetizer. Gama Farms and Zuckerman’s both have beautiful potatoes that will make an excellent tortilla. Gama has larger potatoes that will be less work to cut for this recipe, but Zuckerman’s little babies will make a beautiful pattern, especially if you are taking the tortilla as an appetizer. You can also make individual tortillas using the smaller potatoes if you want to get fancy.
There are many recipes out there, the simplest being just potatoes and eggs. I like to dress mine up, especially if I am having it for dinner. Expert tortilla makers flip the potatoes in the pan, just like an omelet, so that they cook evenly on both sides. Let me confess something right now, only on rare occasions do I ever attempt to flip my omelets, and when I do (usually because I am totally amped up on coffee or tea and am feeling invincible), it is more often than not disastrous. For this reason, I will never make it on any cooking show, or in any cooking school, but I’ve come to terms with this, and have moved on. So, if you are like me, and can’t flip worth a darn, you can cheat along with me and put your tortilla in the oven to finish cooking. Or, if you are feeling lucky, go ahead flip those potatoes.
Here is my current favorite set of ingredients for Spanish Tortilla. Remember, everything with the exception of the eggs, potatoes, good olive oil and salt and pepper are optional. This can be a vegetarian dish, or with the addition of meat, not. Feel free to try out other additions including a bit of cheese, caramelized onions, or sliced kalamata olives.
One last note, if you are cheating like I do, make sure the skillet you are using is oven proof, i.e., the handle won’t melt in the oven.
Red and Green Spanish Tortilla
6 Eggs, 7 if the eggs are small (Gama, Lilly’s and Dey Dey’s all sell eggs)
½ tsp dried thyme, or ½ Tbsp fresh (try Living Lettuce. Scarborough, Fresno Evergreen or Menos Farms)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil (The Olive Press or Uncle Berch – use good oil here as part of the flavor in this dish, especially if you are using only potatoes and eggs, comes from the oil)
¾ pound Yukon gold or Red potato, thinly sliced
½ white or Vidalia onion
1-2 Tbsp minced garlic, depending on how garlicky you like your food (Yang and Gama Farms)
2 ounces chopped bacon, pancetta, or proscuitto (pancetta is my favorite here)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed (optional, although the sweetness of the peas is a great compliment to the saltiness of the meat - petit peas are nice here if you have them)
1 medium sized tomato, chopped (momotaro from California Sunrise Farms – the cucumber ladies - is a good choice this time of year)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley for garnishing
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. (This is why I love cooking this on a cold day.) Whisk eggs with a little salt and pepper as well as the thyme and set aside.
In a large skillet, non-stick if you have it, (otherwise, be generous with the olive oil and make sure it really coats the skillet before you put the potatoes in) layer the potatoes in a concentric circular pattern, so that they look like the petals of a flower, think chrysanthemum. Drizzle any remaining olive oil on top of the potatoes and set over a medium high heat until they are crisp and golden brown on the bottom and just about cooked through on the top. Once they are browned you can either flip the whole thing like an omelet and finish cooking the potatoes and eggs this way, or cheat like me and go on to the next step without flipping.
Next, for us cheaters, remove the skillet from the heat and sprinkle the onion, garlic, cooked bacon/pancetta or uncooked proscuitto, peas and tomatoes on top. (You can leave the peas out if you like, but I highly recommend them.) Now pour the egg mixture over all of this, making sure the egg is evenly distributed over the entire skillet. If it looks like there isn’t enough egg to cover everything, don’t hesitate to whisk another egg and pour it over with everything else.
Put the skillet in the over for about 6 minutes, or until the egg is just set. You don’t want to over cook it, as it will become rubbery.
Now back to our program. For cheaters and non-cheaters alike, gently loosen the tortilla from the pan, place a platter over the top of the skillet and carefully invert the tortilla onto the platter. The potato side should be on top, so that everyone can see your beautiful potato flower. Sprinkle with parsley and serve hot, or cold.
This makes a great appetizer and can be made in advance. It’s also great for lunch, or even breakfast the next day.
So, in closing, never underestimate those around you be they animal or vegetable. See you on Sunday. P.S. The Market will be closed for both Christmas Day and New Years Day.