Monday, May 3, 2010

Tortilla Verde

Spanish tortilla. Dinner of champions in our house. This is one of those remarkable dinners that everyone will eat, without individual tweaking. And notice that green stuff? Baby spinach. Yes, all three munchkins eat that too. And they can even see it! I made this last spring for a St. Patrick's Day tortilla, a comical union of my diluted Irish heritage and my hubby's strong Spanish blood.

I've used probably 25 different tortilla recipes over the years. And I've had several hands-on lessons with Spanish friends, both in their kitchens in Spain and in mine where we were limited to my ingredients and kitchenware. The all-out winner was a recipe from Cook's Illustrated last summer, which I've tweaked and doctored and fine-tuned to our family tastes.

This is a notoriously stressful dish to make, and I won't pretend that this hasn't freaked me out for years. But we all love to eat it so I was determined to master this. I'd love to share what I've learned with you so you can add more to your own dinner repertoire.

Because, seriously, don't you always have eggs and potatoes on hand? Probably so. We add onions, but you know I cook with what I have so - you guessed it - we've had quite a few tortillas without onions. Still delish. Sliced onions are most traditional, but in these photos you can see I used chopped onions since I had a chopped one in the freezer.

Here are a few pointers:

1. I prefer not to use russet potatoes, those starchy ones with the dark brown skin that fall apart when boiled and make scrumptious mashed potatoes. Mashed is not the desired effect here. You're going for slices. My favorite choice is Yukon gold potatoes, but at some markets those are pricey. (Odd that I find all potatoes are the same price per pound at other markets...) A cost-effective option is the Trader Joe's 4-pound bag of "Gold" potatoes. I'm sure they're not technically Yukon - or they would be labeled as such - but the texture is just perfect. A mandoline would probably make the slicing go very quickly, but I have plenty of gadgets in the kitchen and have found that, with practice and a very sharp chef's knife, I can get this done  quickly enough.

2. Don't be afraid of browning. Probably the most intimidating part of making a tortilla is the flip. Oozing uncooked egg on one side, a plate that may not be the right size, and - of course - worry that the bottom is burning. It's a slightly blurry shot, but above you can see how I waited for a browned crust before flipping the tortilla. The crust holds the tortilla together (both in the pan and when you slice it), and it's really an integral part of the overall taste. It will take longer than you think to get this crust, depending on the pan size you use.

3. Don't skimp on the olive oil but also don't overdo it. The recipe variation I use is a HUGE reduction in the olive oil volume used for everyday tortillas in the Spanish households I've visited. Spanish cooks often have a container for oil on the counter that they reuse for each tortilla. My guess is that it's easy to just dump in what you have available. I don't reuse oil, and really don't like greasy food, so I cut back to just what's necessary. You may prefer the same.

4. Have a couple dinner plates ready at your cooking site. When the tortilla is ready to flip, this is not the time to wash a couple dirties from the dishwasher rack! Test the size of your dinner plate over the skillet you will be using. Too small or too big will leave you with a mess. I like to use an 8-inch skillet for an 8-egg tortilla. This will give you a taller tortilla than a 10-inch pan. I like a taller stack of potatoes and veggies, just like I've sidled up to a tapas bar in the Valencia mercado.

Let me know how it goes!

Tortilla Verde
adapted from Cook's Illustrated (July & August 2009)
Serves 4-6

6 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds gold potatoes (3 to 4 medium)
1 medium onion, halved and sliced thinly, or chopped
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
8 large eggs
6 ounces baby spinach leaves, roughly chopped
chives, snipped for garnish (optional)

Slice potatoes in half lengthwise and thinly slice. Larger potatoes may need to be sliced into long quarters before thinly slicing. Using hands, gently toss the potatoes and onions in a large bowl with 4 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper until potatoes are separated and coated in oil. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add potato mixture to skillet, and set bowl aside without washing. Cover skillet and cook, stirring with rubber spatula every 5 minutes, until potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk eggs and remaining teaspoon salt in reserved bowl. Using rubber spatula, fold hot potato mixture and spinach into eggs until combined. Return skillet to medium-high heat, add remaining teaspoon oil, and heat until just beginning to smoke. Add egg-potato mixture and cook, shaking pan gently for 30 seconds. Smooth top of mixture with rubber spatula. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook, gently shaking pan every 30 seconds until bottom is browned (as in photo above), about 3 to 5 minutes. The top should be slightly set but runny in some areas.

Using rubber spatula, loosen tortilla from pan, shaking pan until tortilla slides around freely. (This should be fairly effortless in a decent nonstick skillet.) Gently slide tortilla onto a dinner plate. Place the other dinner plate face-down over the tortilla so the sides line up. And flip! (A tiny dribble will always fall out; no worries.) Slide the flipped tortilla back into the hot skillet so the browned side is now on top. If needed, use rubber spatula to tuck edges into the skillet. Gently shake pan every 30 seconds, until second side is browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Slide tortilla onto cutting board - but do not slice yet! Let tortilla set and cool about 15 minutes before slicing.

We like to eat ours in halved, homemade whole-grain pita pockets, sprinkled with chives. Enjoy!

{Postscript: Drat! It's so annoying to use a recipe with errors, and I've written one myself! Just so you don't end up chopping or slicing an onion and later find yourself wondering what the hey-ho to do with it, I edited the recipe to mention that you need to toss that in the first go with the work bowl and get it all mixed in with the potatoes before you cook them. Just don't trash those onions if you end up in this pickle again: Freeze them in a baggie and consider yourself lucky when you need a prepped onion for the next dinner and find it's already done for you. :-) I also found that last week's tortilla required almost 5 minutes of cooking per side; I think I went a little overboard with the potatoes. Times were adjusted above as well. Happy cooking!}

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