Gypsy Kitchens: Tortilla de Patatas

Tortillas are, in the opinion of many, the most beloved of all Spanish foods. They are served everywhere from high-class restaurants to dive bars. They sit on kitchen counters and under napkins in bodegas, eaten as snacks or full meals, fresh, cold or reheated.
Completely different from their Mexican cousins, Spanish tortillas are essentially thick cakes of egg cooked with some kind of vegetable or starch - zucchini or broccoli, for example. The most popular type, by far, is tortilla de patatas, or potato tortilla, which we recently made and ate for breakfast with a big group. It's simple, tasty and cheap - the perfect Spanish dish for autumn.
Perhaps the best thing about making tortillas is that they require only three ingredients: potatoes, eggs and onion. One could definitely throw in garlic, herbs, peppers - anything, really - but those are add ons. To make a good sized tortilla, use about a dozen eggs and half a dozen medium sized potatoes.
Wash and eye the potatoes, scrubbing the skin well with a brush under cold water. Peeling is optional, and pretty unnecessary. The slices should be between one-eighth and one-quarter inch thick, and semi-uniform to ensure that they cook evenly. To get them down into the pan easier, cut the pieces in half. Dice the onion.
In a medium skillet, saute the onion and potatoes in about a quarter cup of oil, cooking slowly enough that they don't brown much. When the potatoes are tender and done, remove the mixture and discard the oil. Clean up any sticky leftover crumbs, re-oil the pan and begin heating again over low heat.
In a large bowl, combine the potato and onion with all of the eggs and a few pinches of salt. When the pan is fairly hot - enough to sizzle a drop of water - pour in the mixture. Cook slowly, over low heat, until the egg has firmed all the way to the top, but not until it is hard. There should be a fair amount of jiggle when the pan is shaken.
The most difficult part is the flip - it requires a lot of nerve and a steady hand. We carefully loosened the edges and bottom of the tortilla, then slid it out onto a large plate. Then, after oiling a final time, we inverted the pan over the plate and completed a kind of twist move that landed the tortilla with minimal damage. Unfortunately, this is a process that can't easily be described or taught, as there are a lot of variables.
We cooked the tortilla - as many people do - the night before and had it for breakfast. It's good cold, served with "pan con tomate," which is essentially toast with olive oil and tomato rubbed on top.
Here's the recipe:

Tortilla de Patatas
1 dozen eggs
5-7 medium boiling potatoes, scrubbed and eyed
1 medium onion
Olive oil

- Halve the potatoes and slice into 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick pieces. Dice the onion well.
- In a medium to large skillet, saute the onions and potatoes in 1/4 cup oil until the potatoes are soft and fork-tender. Remove the onions and potatoes from the pan and discard the oil. Rid the pan of all crumbs and stuck-on stuff, and re-coat with oil (use a more moderate amount this time).
- In a large bowl, mix the potato, onion, eggs and a few pinches of salt.
- Heat the pan until drops of water will sizzle, add the egg mixture and reduce to low heat.
- Cook the mixture slowly until almost firm on top, but with a good bit of jiggle - this should take between twenty and forty minutes. Use your imagination to figure out a way to flip the tortilla, then cook for about five minutes, raising the heat to medium. Remove from the pan.
- Serve cold or hot.
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