Tortilla española and gazpacho are two of Spain’s most iconic dishes.
When I took a school trip to Spain in grade twelve, I kept seeing tortilla on menus. The only tortilla I knew was the Mexican flatbread, so I assumed the Spanish restaurateurs were borrowing from Mexico. They were not. Tortilla española is, in fact, a potato omelet—a dish that is beyond the simple sum of its parts.
In university, I went back to Spain to study, and during that time I had an Intercambio, a language exchange partner. Though I didn’t learn much Spanish from Bernado, he did teach me the importance of tortilla española. He took me on tours of tapa bars and other restaurants, and under his tutelage, I sampled many variations of tortilla, including tortilla smothered in white sauce and tortilla with additions such as shrimp, oregano, tuna, and peppers. He took me hiking in the dry Spanish countryside with a picnic of the leftover tortilla as a sandwich filling, and of course, he showed me how to make own my tortilla.
Once I went to a lovely restaurant in Salamanca, Spain, where there was glass case filled with “tortilla cakes,” stacked tortillas frosted with mayonnaise and festooned with vegetables, meats, and olives. Here’s my version of that most festive tortilla. I find it appeals to the kid in all of us.
6 tbsp. olive oil
8 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced very thinly
2 medium onions, chopped
10 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper, to taste
Asparagus, steamed or pickled, to garnish
Cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, to garnish
Olives, to garnish
Mayonnaise, to garnish
Heat the oil in a large skillet with a long handle over moderate heat. Add four of the potatoes and cook, stirring frequently. After about five minutes, add one of the onions. Continue cooking until the potatoes are thoroughly soft but not brown. Make sure that the heat is not too high so that the potatoes do not cook too quickly and brown. Season with salt and pepper, and then smooth out the potato mixture so that it covers the bottom of the pan evenly. Add five of the eggs and cook until the bottom of the tortilla has browned but the top is still a bit raw.
With one hand, lift the skillet from the heat. With the other hand, place a large plate or pot lid over the top of the tortilla. Invert the tortilla onto the plate or pot lid. Return the tortilla to the skillet cooked side up and continue cooking for a couple more minutes. Invert the tortilla onto a clean plate and set aside.
Repeat these steps with the remaining olive oil, potatoes, onions, and eggs, making a second tortilla.
Place one of the tortillas on a cake stand. Decorate, as you like, with asparagus, tomatoes, and olives. (Kids really love doing this part!) Top with the second tortilla and additional asparagus, tomatoes, and olives. Using a pastry bag, pipe mayonnaise onto the tortilla. Serve sliced into wedges like a cake.
In Canada, gazpacho is sold for big bucks on fancy restaurant patios in the summer, but its origins are rather humble. It dates back to Roman, or perhaps even pre-Roman times when shepherds—lacking the modern convenience of a thermos—took to picnicking on a simple cold soup made from stale bread, garlic, oil, vinegar, and water. In the nineteenth century, Andalusian farmers added raw vegetables to the mix.
Today, gazpacho (from the Latin caspa, meaning “leftovers” or “little something”) varies from region to region and from family to family, and it may even include such surprising ingredients as fresh or dried fruit. My recipe is a fairly classic version except for a little trick I have for making it more fun for children: ladling it into green pepper “bowls.”
3 1-cm slices of stale baguette
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced
1.5 tbsp. wine vinegar
1.5 tsp. salt
½ cup cold water
5 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
¼ green pepper, roughly chopped
½ cucumber peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
4 green peppers, halved and seeded
Crushed ice, to garnish
Croutons, homemade or commercial, to garnish
Diced tomato, to garnish
Diced green pepper, to garnish
Diced cucumber, to garnish
Diced onion, to garnish
Place the sliced baguette, garlic, vinegar, salt, water, chopped tomatoes, chopped green pepper, and chopped cucumber in a blender and puree. Chill until ready to serve. Stir in a little crushed ice and ladle the soup into green pepper halves. Allow each person to top their soup with croutons, and diced tomatoes, onions, green pepper, and cucumber.