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Aug 7, 2012
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Wine With...Spanish Tortilla

Time to make dinner. It’s a sweltering evening; in fact it’s too steamy out there to think pleasurably of standing in front of a hot grill. The larder is pretty bare, but it’s too late for a foray to the grocery store. All of which adds up to the perfect recipe for a Spanish tortilla!

Even when there isn’t much else around we usually have eggs in the fridge. Olive oil is one staple we are never out of, but do we have an onion somewhere, and a clove or two of garlic? A few potatoes? No problem. There’s even a small head of lettuce tucked away in the vegetable bin so that we can have a simple green salad with our tortilla. Within thirty minutes or less we’ll have dinner on the table.

According to most authorities, the tortilla de patatas may predate the French omelette. At least it does so in print, having first appeared in Spanish cookbooks during the reign of Phillip IV (1605-1665). It was originally called Tortilla de Cartuja, for the Carthusian monks who are said to have first recorded it, and whose version of this simple egg dish included nothing more than potatoes and, maybe, onions. Today anything goes. You can add spinach, mushrooms, shellfish, snails, peppers, chorizo, bacon, or just about whatever suits your fancy and still legitimately call it a “tortilla.” But some moods (and some circumstances) require that one stick to the basics. Our tortilla was utterly delicious and satisfying, partly because of its homey, straightforward ingredients. And anchored by the robust taste and texture of potatoes, it also proved a very commendable companion for a wider range of wines than we’d initially hoped.

Tortilla de Patatas

Serves 2 as a main course, 4-6 as an appetizer

In Spain, where they often are eaten cold or at room temperature, tortillas are the country’s most frequently served dish. When sliced, they make an immensely popular tapa or appetizer. Served intact, they’re the main course for a simple supper—comfort food Espanola as it were.

The traditional way to make a tortilla is to let the egg mixture cook on one side, then slide it onto a plate and ease it back into the skillet uncooked-side down. If you feel insecure about this step, simply cover the pan to allow the top of the tortilla to cook at the same time as the bottom. Then once it is cooked through and can be manipulated with a little more confidence, use potholders to grasp the pan handle with one hand, cover the pan with a serving plate, and turn it upside down to release the tortilla onto the plate, browned side up.

If you’re making the tortilla for two people, cook it in two separate batches for an especially nice presentation, with each person being served a whole tortilla. Otherwise, cut it in slices to serve.

¼ cup olive oil
about 1 ¼ pounds potatoes (3-4 medium)
1 medium red or yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 eggs
salt and pepper
Paprika (optional)

Heat the oil in an 8 or 10-inch skillet. Peel and coarsely chop the potatoes. Add them to the skillet and cook for several minutes until they begin to soften. Add the onions and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until both potatoes and onions are tender. Stir in the garlic and continue cooking for another few minutes. Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk them along with salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir them into the potato mixture. When the edges start to firm up, lower the heat to medium and let the tortilla cook without stirring. (Lift the edges with a spatula from time to time to make sure it isn’t sticking.) If you wish, cover the pan and cook until the top is done to your taste (very slightly runny is best since eggs become tough if they overcook). Then flip it over onto a plate, browned bottom side up. Alternatively, when the bottom of the tortilla seems nicely browned but the top is still runny, slide it onto a plate then flip it back into the pan so that the topside is on the bottom of the pan, and cook it for a couple of minutes more. If desired, dust the top of the tortilla with a little paprika.

* * *

In keeping with the theme of a simple, inexpensive supper, we only tried wines costing around $10 with our tortilla. Though we had guessed that white wines would perform best, the dish is quite filling, and reds and rosés worked well too. The key to a good match turned out to be direct, largely unadorned flavors. A complicated wine might well seem to be too much, while a fairly simple, straightforward one will provide plenty of down-to-earth pleasure—which after all, is precisely what a simple supper should do....

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Concha y Toro “Casillero del Diablo, Rapel Valley (Chile) Malbec 2010

(Imported by Excelsior Wine & Spirits)

$12

You might think (as we did) that a young Malbec would be too robust to pair well with a dish made with little more than eggs and potatoes. This particular wine, however, is soft and subtle n the palate, with bright plum fruit flavors, and in no sense overwhelmed the tortilla. It was our favorite of the four reds we tried..

Essay, Western Cape (South Africa) Chenin Blanc (Steen), 2011

(Imported by International Wine Imports)

$11

Made with 10% Viognier, this wine offers some of that variety’s fleshy texture while its flavors are bright and vibrant. Unlike many Chenins, it is totally dry and so very refreshing.

Marqués de Cáceres, Rioja (Spain) Dry Rosé 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$9

A soft and fairly light rosé, with strawberry fruit flavors, this wine has just enough body to hold its own with a Spanish tortilla. The potatoes in the dish make the tortilla seem surprisingly rich, and we found that the vibrancy of this rosé lightened it a bit, making us eager for another bite.

Rosemount Estate, South Eastern Australia (Australia) Chardonnay “Diamond Label” 2011

(Imported by TWE Imports)

$9

A rich, oak-influenced Chardonnay often can be a good choice to pair with eggs in almost any form, so this wine’s performing well with the tortilla came as no surprise. The wood here, however, is quite subtle, making the wine lively rather than heavy on the palate, just what one wants on a steamy summer evening.

La Vielle Ferme, Ventoux (France) Rosé 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$9

Made from Grenache and Cinsault, this is a fairly substantial rosé. Unlike more expensive southern French rosés, there is nary a hint of lavender, herbs, or Provencal garrigue. Instead, waves of bright, succulent cherry and red berry fruit constitute its considerable charm..