The difference between a tortilla and a frittata is basically that one is from Spain and the other is from Italy. A Spanish tortilla is also just potato and eggs – traditionally, anyway – whereas an Italian frittata can be any combination of ingredients.
The key to both is that they are eaten the day they are cooked. They should never see the fridge. Cooked egg that has been refrigerated becomes immediately rubbery and lifeless.
The tortilla came from a place where food was scarce. I like how humble and delicious and versatile it is. A small tortilla goes a long way. The combination of protein and carbs will set you up for the day. A good wedge of tortilla in a bread roll – a bocadillo – is a staple throughout Spain.
Yet again I have to preach simplicity. What seem like the simplest things to cook are often the most difficult. When I say difficult, I don’t mean complex in method: the difficulty is the perfection of timing, of having a perfectly golden crust and a barely cooked inside. When a dish is this simple, there is nowhere to hide. Even a lack of salt will render the tortilla a bland failure.
I would be negligent here not to also mention the quality of fresh free-range eggs. The bulk of the flavour in this dish comes from the crust it develops in the pan, where the egg cooks with the oil and onion.
Similar to a good crepe or a good omelette, timing is part of this, but a good pan is key. The right size pan for the egg and potato is important. The mixture, when poured into the pan, should be no less than three centimetres thick, but not much more, either. I could go on about good cast-iron pans here, but there’s no need to mess around. Cut to the chase: the fastest way to find the best pan is to use a non-stick one.
– 900g desiree potatoes, peeled
– 3 cups olive oil
– 1 large brown onion, thinly sliced
– 4 tbsp olive oil, extra
– 8 eggs
Cut the potatoes into one-centimetre cubes and place into a medium saucepan. Pour the olive oil over the potatoes and cook over a low heat – you want the potatoes to be cooked but not browned. When the potatoes are soft, drain them and set aside.
While the potato is cooking, place the sliced onion in a saucepan with a tablespoon of oil and a pinch of salt. Cook over a low heat until it is very soft and almost jammy in consistency.
Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them. Mix in the potatoes, onions and one teaspoon of salt. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-based 20-centimetre frying pan. A well-seasoned cast-iron or non-stick frying pan will give the best results for this dish. Pour the egg and potato mixture into the hot pan. Shake the pan in a circular motion and loosen the eggs from edges of the pan as they set. Turn the heat right down and leave the tortilla to cook until it has browned on the bottom and is mostly set, with just a small amount of liquid remaining on top.
Now it is ready to turn over. Place a dinner plate larger than the frying pan upside down over the frying pan. With one hand on
the frying pan handle and the other on top of the plate, quickly
flip the frying pan over so the tortilla falls onto the plate.
Place the frying pan back on the stove and slide the tortilla into the pan. Cook for a few minutes more to set the underside of the tortilla. Place onto a plate and serve warm or at room temperature with some roasted red capsicum salad and queso fresco (see below).
– 1 litre unhomogenised organic milk
– pinch salt
– 30ml fresh lemon juice
In a heavy-based saucepan, warm the milk and a pinch of salt, gently stirring until it reaches 85ºC. Add the lemon juice a little at a time, stirring gently after each addition. Stop adding the lemon juice when the curds separate from the whey. You will see white clumps of curd suspended in a pale, translucent whey. Remove from the heat and let the mixture sit in the pot for 10 minutes.
Line a sieve with a piece of cheesecloth or muslin and gently ladle the curds into the sieve.
The curds will be ready after draining for 20 minutes. Transfer them to a clean bowl and set aside until you are ready to eat. If you would like a firmer cheese, let the curds drain for an hour.
Leftover cheese can be wrapped in cling wrap and kept in the fridge for two days if you don’t eat it all on the day it is made.
Roast capsicum salad
– 4 red capsicums
– 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
– 1 clove garlic
– 2 tsp sherry vinegar
– 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
– ¼ cup parsley leaves, finely sliced
In a large bowl, roll the capsicums in one teaspoon of oil until they are lightly greased all over. Grill the capsicums on a char grill or barbecue, or you can place them directly on the gas burners on your stove. Use tongs to turn the capsicums periodically, so that the skin chars and blackens on all sides.
When they are tender, place the capsicums in a bowl and cover with cling wrap. When they are cool enough to be handled, peel the skin from the flesh and remove the seeds.
Peel the garlic clove and give it a little bash with the flat side of a knife, to bruise it and break it open a little. Slice the capsicums into thin strips and mix them with the sherry vinegar, olive oil, garlic clove and salt to taste. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes. Remove the garlic clove and stir through the parsley just before serving.
2014 Palacios Remondo La Vendimia garnacha tempranillo, Rioja, Spain ($33)
– Liam O’Brien, head sommelier, Cutler & Co
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 6, 2016 as "A classic Spanish breakfast". Subscribe here.