Celebrating American Independence By Way Of Spain. Totally Normal.
“But we can’t have Mexican quinoa for dinner. It’s the 4th of July!” Justin, only half-joking, was wearing a face I’ve come to know well over the years. I call it his Exasperation Face.
“How can we eat food from Mexico on American Independence day?”
“First of all,” I retorted, “quinoa isn’t from Mexico. It’s from South America. I just add Mexican flavors.”
Justin rolled his eyes.
“And second of all, the only other recipes I’d planned on making this week are middle eastern-inspired curried lentils over black rice and that Spanish potato pie thing you liked so much. And don’t even get me started on how much so-called Mexican food Americans consume regularly. It’s a part of our culture.” Ha. That’s what he gets for marrying a woman who travels through food when she can’t travel for real. “Besides, America is a melting pot. THAT’S what I’m celebrating.”
For. the. win.
Despite the lack of meat-centric options that typically accompany July 4th celebrations, Justin’s face lit up at the mention of tortilla de patatas. Of course, anything that brings back memories from our trip to Spain gets points for nostalgia, but the truth is that this little 5 ingredient dish (I count salt and pepper as one) is surprisingly delicious. Last time, the two of us ate the entire, decadently layered pie in 36 hours flat.
It didn’t hurt that I topped it with a homemade sofrito. Common in Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American cooking, sofrito is typically prepared in Spain by sautéing onions, tomatoes, and other aromatics in olive oil. It takes a bit of patience to caramelize the onions, but I promise it’s well worth the foresight.
Speaking of oil.
Okay. What we lacked in meat, we made up for in oil. This recipe calls for a LOT of oil, so it’s very important to pick one you like. Especially if you make the homemade sofrito. I happen to love olive oil, and I feel no shame in devouring disproportionate amounts of its fatty deliciousness on occasion. Because guys. We can’t be afraid of these things. This is real food we’re talking about here — not some processed, package stuff you picked up at the WalMarts on your way home from work and threw together guiltily with a dash of anger and a pinch of harried frustration.
This tortilla de patatas with sofrito can be prepared lovingly with the knowledge that this fat is good fat and this food is real food and the energy you’re putting into it is happy and healthy and quite possibly alive with the buzz of the good Spanish wine you poured to accompany your time in the kitchen, and I’m telling you —
THAT’S TOTALLY OKAY.
It’s encouraged, even.
And while the preparation of this meal isn’t exactly kid-friendly (unless your kids happen to be adept at knife skills or using sharp mandolins and working with hot oil, in which case, are you selling your genes? Because I’d totally take a kid like that), the finished product isn’t something I could see them complaining about if you can get them to try it.
I implore you to make this. And I implore you to love it. But first, I implore you to buy one of these. Or this guy if you’re into color. I have the first one, and I’m telling you — my mandolin is what made this recipe possible. I could have thinly sliced all of those potatoes and onions, but my mandolin did it for me — uniformly and swiftly. And for that I’m eternally grateful.
I found the recipe here. You can make it a day ahead if you want. To make it, you’ll need:
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (one you LIKE! — You could cut this back some if you want.)
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 3-4 tsp salt (I only use 3)
- 6 ripe roma tomatoes (about 1 lb.)
- 1/2 tsp. pimenton (paprika — I use smoked paprika)
- Bay leaf
1) Heat the oil in a medium, deep-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, the 1/2 tsp. of sugar, 2 tsp. of salt, and cook them for about an hour (I know guys, but it’s really really worth it), stirring occasionally, until they’re nice and golden. If they start getting too brown, turn down the heat and add a bit more oil.
Take ’em from this:
2) While the onions are caramelizing, grate your tomatoes. You could probably get away with buying some canned tomato puree, but the ingredients for this dinner are so simple, it’s all about the manual work. You need to put in the labor to get the flavor, yo. It’s easy. Just cut them in half and grate. Throw away the skins and don’t skin your own skin. Because no one likes blood in their sofrito.
Mmmm…. looks like Halloween.
3) When the onions are caramelized, toss in your tomato puree, 1/2 tsp. of paprika, and the bay leaf.
Let simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes, then season with another teaspoon or two of salt. (I find one does the trick for me.) The oil will separate from the tomatoes. The first time I made it, I mixed everything back together. The second time, I scooped out the thicker tomato sauce and discarded the extra oil — it still tasted delicious.
Tortilla de Patatas (Potato Tortilla)
I found the original recipe here and to make it, you’ll need a whopping 5 ingredients:
- 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 lb. golden potatoes (3-5, depending on size)
- 1 onion
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (this doesn’t all go into the finished dish)
- 6 extra-large or 7 large eggs
- Salt & pepper to taste
1) Peel the potatoes, and slice those and the onion with a mandolin. My onion was large, so I cut it in half (from root to tip) before slicing.
About 10 seconds per potato. DONE.
2) Heat the cup of oil in an 8-10 inch non-stick skillet until very hot (about 3 minutes). I had to cook my potatoes and onion in 2 batches. Add half of the potatoes and onion to the hot oil, reduce the heat to low, and cook, flipping them around occasionally, for about 15 minutes. The second time I made this (pictured), I cooked them a little longer than I would’ve liked because they were falling apart.
Yep. We’re basically shallow-frying. When the first batch is done, use a slotted spoon to move the cooked potatoes and onion to a colander over a bowl to let the oil drain.
Then re-heat that same oil and cook the second batch.
3) While your onion/potato batches are cooking, prepare your “batter” by mixing the 6-7 eggs with a little salt and pepper.
Once the potatoes and onions are drained (save 2 Tbsp. of that oil for the tortilla, and you can reserve the rest of that awesome onion-infused oil in the fridge for another use like salad dressing), throw them into the bowl of eggs and let them sit for a good 10 minutes to soak it all in.
This batch was a little “eggier” than I prefer.
4) Heat 2 Tbsp. of that reserved onion-infused oil back in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Pour the entire potato mixture in there, flatten everything down, and let cook until semi-set. I use a spatula to pull the sides away from the pan and let the egg run underneath. When it’s no longer runny on top, slide the tortilla onto a plate, put the pan upside-down on top, and flip the whole thing back over. Yep. I make Justin do that part. (Remember the scotch egg fiasco?)
Then let it cook on that side until everything’s set, and slide it onto a serving plate. You can serve this warm or at room temperature with a dollop of sofrito.
Look at that lovely swirl of steam — and those layers!
I can’t explain to you why this is so delicious. It’s one of those cooking phenomenons you have to experience to believe.
Let me know if you try it!
It may not be “American,” but we celebrated independence by cooking whatever we wanted.
And I’d say that’s kind of the point.