As the oil sizzled in the pan and the kitchen filled with the aroma of cooked onions and garlic, I felt as if I were back in Málaga, Spain. I spent the fall semester of my junior year in college in Málaga, where I lived with a host family and continued my Spanish studies with 25 other students from Dickinson College.
As I followed the steps in the “Tapas Fantásticas” cookbook, by Bob and Coleen Simmons, for the tortilla Española, a familiar site appeared in my frying pan.
When I arrived in Málaga, I thought tortillas were what you made a soft taco out of or used in an enchilada. And while this is true for Mexican foods, a tortilla Española is more like an omelet. My host mother made this for me almost every night for “la cena” or supper.
In Spain, lunch is actually the bigger meal of the day, followed by my favorite part of their culture, la siesta or nap. So dinner was a lighter, smaller meal and she thought nothing of serving the same food almost every night. Oher students in my group were eating a lot of tortillas, too.
By the time I returned to the United States, I was ready to take a break from the Spanish tortilla. But making my own tortillas the other day brought back some wonderful memories of living in that city by the sea, where I became fluent in Spanish and learned to appreciate a different culture.
I wasn’t sure what my kids would think of the tortillas, but I smiled as my littlest one asked for more. As I worked on the other tapas, I watched every last morsel of the tortilla disappear.
Tapas are Spanish appetizers served in bars and restaurants as a little nibble with a glass of wine or beer. “Tapas” means cover and in the past, these appetizers were served on a small plate and delivered to the patron’s table balanced on the top of a wineglass. Tapas are often served with bread and olives are often included.
The cookbook I used contains more than 160 pages filled with tapas broken down by nibbles, seafood, beef, poultry, cheese and egg, vegetables, basics (that include sauces) and drinks. Along with the tortilla Española, I made a garbanzo bean salad and apple, walnut and blue cheese balls. The garbanzo bean salad was so easy to make that I plan to file it away for when fresh tomatoes appear this summer. I chose the blue cheese balls because I love all of the ingredients.
Classic tortilla Española
½ cup full-flavored olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
1½ pounds boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
6 large eggs
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Tabasco sauce, optional
Heat oil in a 9- or 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until lightly browned. Remove and discard garlic. Add onion slices and simmer in oil for 2 to 3 minutes. Slide potato slices into oil a few at a time to keep them from sticking together. Cover pan and simmer potatoes over medium heat for 25 to 30 minutes. Gently move potatoes around several times during cooking. Test with a fork for doneness. When potatoes are cooked through, but not browned, pour them into a large strainer over a heat-proof bowl to catch the oil. Drain for several minutes and reserve oil.
Break eggs into a large bowl. Season well with salt and pepper. Add a few drops of Tabasco sauce if desired. Whisk together eggs. Spoon in the potato-onion mixture and gently combine, keeping potato slices as whole as possible. Wipe out skillet with a paper towel and place over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil and heat until hot. Pour in the egg-potato mixture and reduce heat to medium. Shake the pan frequently to keep the eggs from sticking to the pan. When the eggs have set on the sides of the pan and have started to brown, place a flat lid or plate over the pan. Over the sink or an easily cleanable surface, deftly invert the pan on to the lid or plate and then slide the tortilla back into the pan to cook the other side. A perfectly cooked tortilla is barely set in the center, with a lightly browned surface on both sides.
Turn out onto a serving plate and cool before serving. Cut into wedges or squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Variation: Add a favorite vegetable or cooked meat to the potato mixture. We’d suggest diced chiles, diced ham, chopped well-drained, squeezed-dry spinach, flaked tuna, green peas, or crumbled cooked sausage.
Garbanzo bean salad
1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo beans, drained
1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
4 to 5 green onions, white part only, thinly sliced
½ cup diced ham pieces, optional
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons full-flavored olive oil
1 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sherry wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Rinse drained garbanzo beans with cold water and drain well. Pat dry and place in a serving bowl. Add tomatoes, onions, ham and oregano and mix well. Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Pour over beans and toss gently to coat with dressing. Serve on small plates at room temperature.
Variation: Substitute small chunks of sausage, cooked chicken, roasted red peppers or artichoke hearts for the ham.
Apple, walnut and blue cheese balls
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 Gala or Golden Delicious apple, about 7 ounces
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ cup finely chopped parsley
Crackers (to accompany the apple, walnut blue cheese balls)
In a small bowl, combine crumbled blue cheese and walnuts. Set aside. Peel and core apple, and grate coarsely in a food processor or with a grater. Place in a small bowl, add lemon juice and toss to combine. Add walnuts and cheese mixture to apples and mix well. Form into 1-inch balls. Roll in parsley and arrange on a serving platter.
Recipes from “Tapas Fantásticas,” by Bob and Coleen Simmons