Sunday, June 15, 2014

Torta Espanola

A perfectly crisp-and-soft Spanish tortilla, smelling of olive oil, eaten at room temperature. 
Delicious and perfect. 
As I mentioned in my last post, I've been cooking tons of meat lately. A great many pounds of muscle tissue have been turned into dinner in the last couple months, when I was too stressed from school to bother posting anything. Of note, there was: 

1. An enormous brisket, which I pickled into corned beef, then turned into pastrami for Passover seder. This picture is me searing a 16 pound brisket at 4:30 am, because it needed to cook slowly all day, and I had to leave for work at 7. This turned out fabulous and I wish I would have gotten a picture of the finished product, but I was too busy telling hilarious and clever afikoman jokes. 

2. Carne Asada, which I made to celebrate my brother's arrival in Denver. I marinated it in orange, lime, beer, garlic and other spices for a few days, then grilled it, and made my customary array of sauces: rojita, chimichurri, and guacamole. 

3. My brother grilled some beef heart--a dish he came to love while studying in Quito. 

4. Orange-soy braised pork, which I made to take to a coworker who'd recently had a baby. I made an extra-large batch so we had it for dinner, too. This cabbage slaw with peanut vinaigrette is one of my favorite salads. 

On top of all this, there was the beef brisket, glazed pork, pork belly and gallons of accompanying booze for merriment in the backyard. 
Is reading this giving you meatsweats? Me too. Today I was mildly ruminating on what to make for dinner. It's summer, so I have a great many free hours to contemplate exactly what I want for dinner. And the thought of meat was entirely off-putting.
So I decided to make a couple of recipes from a cookbook I recently purchased in the bargain section of Tattered Cover. 
I couldn't resist purchasing this, despite the fact that I've already read the majority of these recipes and essays in Elizabeth David's other books I already own. She's tied with Jeffrey Steingarten as my favorite food writer of all time (I love a prickly, disdainful voice in food writing).  The pictures were beautiful. And the recipes, though nothing I don't already know how to cook un-guided, are oddly comforting to read. If you've never read any Elizabeth David, I recommend An Omelet and a Glass of Wine--it's my favorite.  
Anyway, I settled on a Spanish tortilla and a Greek baked-eggplant in tomato sauce. 
Both turned out fabulously. 
A delicious summer dinner. 
I preferred the eggplant dish--eggplants fried in olive oil, then baked under a Greek tomato sauce I made with ripe summer tomatoes, capers, olives, anchovies and garlic. But eggplant has long been my favorite vegetable. I love, love inky, sticky fried eggplant skin. 
But my husband and brother both loved the torta more. 
We ate it with some sour cream and an extra-burning (nearly inedibly hot, really) salsa I got from a carniceria. 
Arugula with balsamic, Greek baked eggplant, torta Espaniola. 

This was a fabulous dinner, and a welcome relief from the shameless meat frolic of the summer so far.
I copied the recipe exactly, but didn't soak the potatoes (???this seems stupid) added half an onion, diced, and scattered the top with some parsley and chives. 

Elizabeth David's Spanish Tortilla

A Spanish tortilla is a thick, flat omelette, consisting only of eggs, potatoes and seasonings. It is cooked in olive oil, should be compact and have almost the appearance of a cake, can be eaten hot or cold, and makes a splendid picnic dish, especially for a car journey. A big tortilla will keep moist for three days.
The following recipe, in note form, is exactly as I wrote it down while watching Juanita, the village girl who once cooked for Anthony Denney in his house in the province of Alicante. The notes seem to me to convey the eessential points about making a tortilla more vividly than would a conventional recipe, and I have used them often without in any way altering the method, except to cook the potatoes rather more gently than Juanita did - she was never a patient girl.
Serves 4-6
about 1lb/450g of potatoes for 4 eggs
potatoes all cut up small, soaked in plenty of water (like for gratin Dauphinois)
Cooked in olive oil (she lets it smoke) in shallow earthenware dish directly on Butagaz. Tiny piece of garlic. Stirred fairly often, and pressed with flat iron spatula-spoon. Salt. In the end the potatoes are almost in a cohered mass. If any pieces too big she cuts them as they cook with her iron implement.
She beats the eggs in a bowl, dips in the potatoes (slightly cooled; they have been transferred to a bowl) and mixes them well.
The tortilla is cooked in an iron omelette pan with smoking oil. It puffs up. She holds a deep plate in her left hand and turns the tortilla into it. Then back into the pan. And process repeated (sometimes twice, it depends if she is satisfied with its appearance).
Notes: as a tortilla is a very filling dish, I find that half Juanita's quantities, ie approximately 12lb/225g of potatoes and two eggs makes enough for two or three people. It is, of course, easier to handle in this smaller form, for which I use an iron pan of 20cm diameter, measured at the top. For a four-egg tortilla use a 22cm or 24cm pan.
For the initial cooking of the potatoes I still use a Spanish earthenware dish over direct heat, as did Juanita (it is a delicious way of cooking potatoes, and need not necessarily be reserved for the tortilla), although an ordinary frying pan serves perfectly well.
About the spatula spoon: this is a charctertistic Spanish kitchen implement, a round, flat pusher, as it were, with a long handle, used mainly when the paella is cooking, and just right for moving the rice and other ingredients around in the pan. I use a thin, wooden spatula or palette knife instead.
Really fresh eggs are necessary for a tortilla. Stale ones don't puff up, and so produce a flat omelette.

This recipe is easy, cheap, delicious and elegant. Can be eaten for any meal, hot, cold or room temperature, slathered with sauce or accompanied by some salami or anchovies, or just a salad. 

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