I have seen tortilla española all over Spain in many different guises. Hunks of it come along with a glass of wine as tapas. Served warm, it can be a hearty, omelet-like lunch. Lukewarm, you might find it between two pieces of bread as a sandwich or bocadillo. Spanish cooks experiment with many variations: they might add peppers, tomatoes, herbs, peas, onions, etc. Below is a simple version.
The most likely source of the tortilla española is, ironically, Peru. Potatoes were brought to Europe from the New World. Spaniards likely appropriated the dish from Peruvians, where today it is called the tortilla de papas.
Peel 4 potatoes and cut them in half and then into thin half-moon shapes. Heat an enormous quantity of good olive oil (2 inches or so; enough to cover the potatoes). When the oil is hot, add the potatoes and cook them until they are soft, but still a bit firm.
Beat 4 eggs and season them with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a pan and add the eggs when the pan is hot. Add the potatoes. Cook on medium-high heat until the top of the omelet begins to set. Check the bottom to see if the eggs have browned.
When the bottom of the omelet is brown and the top is beginning to set, it’s time to dar la vuelta, or flip the omelet. Place a plate on top of the pan and then turn the pan over so that the omelet (cooked side down) is now on the plate. Heat a little more oil in the pan (if necessary) and – here’s the tricky part – slide the omelet from the plate into the pan so that the uncooked side is now down.
Now that the most difficult part is over, relax and cook the omelet until the underside is brown. Flip the omelet onto a plate and serve in wedges.
Pan amb Tomaquet
On your first trip to Catalonia, you may wonder, why are the sandwiches here so much better than anywhere else? The answer is that most sandwiches are made not with plain bread but with Catalàn pan amb tomaquet. I’d had the bread, but I didn’t learn how to make it until I had dinner in the mountains high above Barcelona in with a group of Catalàn nationalists, one of whom is a Hell’s Angel.
A waiter solemnly brought us a basket of toasted bread cut from a round loaf. The bread was slightly hard, something like sourdough. Beneath the bread in the basket were several garlic cloves. We each took one, peeled it and cut it in half. Then we rubbed the cut side of the garlic on the bread until it disappeared.
Next, ripe tomatoes, olive oil and sea salt arrived. We cut the tomatoes in half and rubbed them into the bread until we were left with just flaccid tomato casings in our hands. Then – very carefully so as not to inundate the bread – we drizzled olive oil over the tomato. Finally, we dusted everything with a pinch of sea salt.
And that’s it. The result is a delicious snack on its own or a fantastic base for a sandwich. One thing: it’s important to use fairly firm bread, as more floppy bread will fall apart under the pressure of the garlic rubbing and become too soggy with tomato.
Although gazpacho is a dish from southern Spain, I tried it for the first time in Galicia. The woman who showed me how to make it acknowledged that the dish wasn’t from her native region, but assured me she had learned to make it from her Andalucian mother-in-law.
Since gazpacho predates the discovery the New World, the familiar tomato-based version is a relative newcomer. Other versions of gazpacho are made with almonds, and, in some places, grapes. For an exhaustive examination of gazpacho history, go online.
To make gazpacho, soak about 2 cups of day old bread in 1/2 cup water until most of the water is absorbed.
Chop 5 ripe tomatoes, 1 cucumber, 1 red bell pepper, 1 green bell pepper, 1 onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Working in batches if necessary, combine the chopped ingredients in the food processor, adding ice water to create a creamy consistency. Add the bread and a little red wine vinegar and continue processing until smooth.
Strain the gazpacho into a bowl and refrigerate for two hours or more. Before serving, fry a few more cubes of day old bread in a pan with olive oil and garnish the top of each bowl of soup with the warm croutons and wisps of Iberico ham.