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Cooking in Spain

September 1, 2016

Me at the doorway of our Spanish cortijo.

It’s not too often an American can do a one-month-European -style vacation, but this year, somehow, I was able to pull it off. I spend a month in Spain–part Madrid, part Tarifa and a few days in Barcelona. But, while in Tarifa, I was able to play house. We rented a small cortijo in a remote village in the mountains called Betis, about 15 minutes drive from the main town. And, being so far from civilization (ok, 5-minutes drive down the mountain to a mercado), and having access to a full kitchen, I decided I would actually buy food and stock the fridge.

Many years ago, when I lived in a tiny apartment in Madrid with my then first-husband who was Spanish, I did a lot of cooking. My Spanish mother-in-law taught me how to make the most amazing dishes and so, I got a true sense of Spanish cuisine and lifestyle. It stuck with me.

When I moved back home to NJ and tried to re-create the dishes, it wasn’t the same. The ingredients fell short or tasted entirely different. Even textures and colors were a little off.

So, being back in Spain, in a Spanish kitchen and having access to all those wonderful Spanish ingredients, I was excited to see if my memory had served me and I was able to recreate my favorite dishes. My all time favorite is the Spanish tortilla. I typically make this for my family once a month and have perfected–if I do say so myself–the rounded shape. And yet, making it in America is a challenge. The center always caves in as if the potatoes aren’t strong enough to hold up the rest of the tortilla and it tends to be a bit thin, despite following my mother-in-law’s recipe to the T.  So, when I made it in Spain this summer, I was pleasantly surprised, and reminded, that this doesn’t happen! The other thing I noticed was the color. A tortilla made in Spain is much darker due to the rich yellow (almost orange) of the eggs. Plus, the size of the eggs are enormous in Spain! Lastly, the pan I used was a bit more curved versus a shallower American pan I use back home.

Lastly, the taste was phenomenal. It brought back wonderful memories of the tortillas I made many years ago in my tiny Madrid kitchen. At any rate, here’s the recipe no matter where in the world you are…
Spanish Tortilla

A spanish tortilla with turkey paté and cured meats

A spanish tortilla paired with turkey paté and cured meats

33.8 Fl. Oz. Spanish, extra virgin olive oil
4 EXTRA LARGE white potatoes
8-10 LARGE eggs
¼ milk
sea salt
ground pepper
¼ cup onion (optional)

In a non-stick skillet pour and heat a little more than HALF the bottle of olive oil at medium heat. Be sure that your oil does not burn or heat too high.

Peel the skin off the potatoes. Once skinned, take a small paring knife and slice off chips of potato onto a plate or bowl. They should not be too small, or too big. The size of a poker chip is a desirable. Add the potatoes to the hot oil and make sure they are all submersed. If they aren’t, you’ve added too many potatoes or don’t have enough oil. All the potatoes need to be covered in oil to cook. Add salt, pepper and onion. Cook for roughly 10 minutes or more, until potatoes are mushy and soft. Try not to brown them. If they are browning in the pan, lower your heat.

While potatoes are still cooking, take out a large bowl. Add 8 eggs, milk, salt, pepper. Scramble. Set aside.

When potatoes are done cooking, drain oil into heat-safe container (freeze and save this oil for the next time you make a tortilla!). Add potatoes to the egg mixture. Mix well. If mixture is too clumpy with potato and there doesn’t seem to be enough liquid from the eggs, add 2 extra eggs. Stir well.


My family preparing to devour our Spanish meal.

Wipe any grease off bottom of skillet and place it back on heat. Add egg and potato mixture to pan, making sure it pours evenly into skillet. Pat down any clumps of potato so the top of your tortilla is even and relatively smooth. In order to cook tortilla through to center, you need to poke holes throughout and then shake pan gently. Do this repeatedly, running a rubber fork or spatula around the rim of the tortilla to lift it off the pan so as to allow air to cook the uncooked parts. KEEP AT LOW HEAT so you don’t burn the bottom.

Once tortilla is relatively cooked through (only a few spots of uncooked, moist egg), you can either flip it on to a plate and then back into the pan (pro!) or you can place skillet with tortilla under your broiler and brown the top. Your choice!

Flip onto plate and serve.* Serves 4 for dinner, 8 for tapas

I usually serve this with a side of mayonnaise for dipping, Spanish olives or capers, a green salad and lots of baguette!


Tomatoes, Spanish olives and tuna with salt, pepper and drizzled olive oil.

Last but not least, no Spanish meal is complete without some form of salad, or, perhaps I should say, tomato. We happened to have some left over tomatoes, tuna and olives left in the fridge, and they made a perfect side dish. Tomatoes are grown all over Spain. In fact, every year they have a huge tomato festival called La Tomatina. At some point in history, someone came up with a brilliant  idea to get rid of the surplus of tomatoes that go unsold at the end of the season: have a huge food fight. Roughly 50,000 people attend this festival, the last Wednesday of the month of August, near Valencia. I’ll stick to eating tomatoes in my salad.


One Comment leave one →
  1. September 1, 2016 7:27 pm

    Check out our wine country blog at and follow us if you like what you see.

    PS – my mother always said the water in the US is what made her paella taste different in California vs. Spain. I think it was probably the rice, and since she passed away in 2009 it’s so easy to find the “bomba” rice (Matiz brand is everywhere).

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