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the cost of spring

Recipe: tortilla de patatas (spanish omelette)

Um, the cost of spring is apparently $8.50 for one adult! That was the price of admission to the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster. I took my aunt who was in town on Tuesday. We had a blast checking out the incredible displays of insects, spiders, millipedes, scorpions and I even held Rosie, the Chilean Rose Hair tarantula. Her feet were so soft and furry and her step was light on the palm of my hand. What a truly gorgeous and amazing creature! But the real reason we went: the butterflies.

paper kite butterfly

The moment I removed my lens cap, my filter fogged up. It was so warm (dare I say, hot!) and humid in the Wings of the Tropics Conservatory compared to the cold and dry Colorado winter air outside. I suppose the word Tropics should have clued me in, no? Good thing I had a short sleeve t-shirt under my pullover. I was sweating within minutes. We enjoyed the variety of tropical plants almost as much as the variety of butterflies. Everywhere we looked we saw butterflies flitting, chilling out, taking off, landing, spazzing, sipping up nectar. They were enormous, delicate, exotic, simple, brilliant, striking, mellow, ADD (the postman butterflies were seriously spaz), but each one was fascinating. Every now and again I would look past the dense growth of flowering plants and catch a glimpse of the sunny, but snowy landscape through the glass. Oh yeah – it’s winter.

postman butterfly

But I like winter :) So for me the foray into this world of the colorful, humid tropics was nice in part because it was so stunning AND because it was short-lived. You can see more photos from the afternoon on my photo blog.

I’m unclear if it’s the whole Easter Bunny hoopla or just the association with the color yellow, but eggs have always been a springy and cheerful food to me. I love when Helen or Aran post their beautiful creations and have eggs littering the pages. They make me want to jump up and down like a kid and go running over to their respective kitchens to get my paws into the baking and my spoon in for a taste! So Aran has been tempting me for nearly a year with talk of her beloved tortilla de patatas.

simply put: eggs, onion, potatoes

medium dice on the onions

The first time I tasted this treat (and for someone who loves savory food, this is most definitely a treat to me) was back in college when my friend’s mother had come out from Spain for his PhD graduation ceremony at Caltech. As I stepped into the house for the celebratory party, his mother greeted me with a plate of tortilla de patatas, cut into small cubes and speared with toothpicks. Heavenly! Years later and 3000 miles across the country, I was in a lecture on fracture dislocations in the complex plane when the Chinese professor paused and turned to the handful of graduate students trying to understand his light-speed train of thought. He shouted (he always shouted, there was no other volume), “Do you know how to cook Spanish Omelette?!” He was asking a Spanish woman sitting next to me. She shrank in her chair (there were only 8 of us), smiled and shook her head. “Oh, because I LOVE Spanish Omelette. I want to learn how to make it.” Then he resumed telling us how you can solve ANYTHING in the complex plane… except for how to make tortilla de patatas.

onions, potatoes, eggs, and olive oil at the ready

sweating the onions

You can just imagine how happy I was when Aran posted a recipe for this on her blog. I’m not going to use just any recipe! She’s the homegirl from Spain AND she’s a trained chef. I used Yukon gold potatoes instead of russets because I’m crazy for the flavor. I went with the traditional version of just potatoes and onions (Aran’s recipe includes watercress and parsnip which I’m sure is awesome). I used both a “stick” and a non-stick pan and the non-stick is most definitely the way to go. Don’t ask.

let the potatoes poach in the olive oil

pouring the egg mixture into the pan

Absolutely delicious. How something so simple can wind up being so incredible is the magic of a great recipe. It’s fantastic warm or cold. I feel like I’ve been given a gift. Thanks, Aran!

go get your own!

Tortilla de Patatas
[print recipe]
modified from Cannelle et Vanille

1/2 cup olive oil, extra virgin
1/2 medium onion, medium dice
2 medium russet potatoes, medium dice (I used 3 medium Yukon golds)
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
1/2 tsp salt

Heat the olive oil in an 8-inch non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Add the onions to the pan and sweat them for about 2 minutes. Add the potatoes and 1 teaspoon of salt to the oil. Let the potatoes cook for a couple of minutes and then reduce the flame to medium-low for 15 minutes. Aran says the point is not to fry the potatoes, rather to poach the potatoes in the olive oil. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt together. Drain the potatoes and onions from the oil and add them to the eggs. Don’t worry if the egg starts to cook. Remove all but a teaspoon of oil from the pan and set the heat to medium. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and stir the center until the egg begins to scramble. Then leave it be. Use a wooden or rubber spatula to tuck the edges in neatly and let cook for a few minutes. I waited until mine was still runny, but solid enough to invert onto a plate and return to the pan to cook the other side. Serve hot or cold.

35 nibbles at “the cost of spring”

  1. Bethany says:

    Beautiful pictures and beautiful food! I love tortilla española… when I was in Spain, a glass of wine and a wedge of tortilla made the perfect lunch! I’ve never been able to recreate the magic on my own, but I like this method. And it is great hot or cold!

  2. Denise @ Creative Kitchen says:

    AMAZING!!! I just found Aran’s post on this a couple weeks ago when I discovered her gem of a blog! You have done a gorgeous job on this post! I love your step by step pictures. I have been trying to recreate this recipe for years (ever since my 1995 trip to Madrid!!), so I was thrilled when I found it at Canelle et Vanelle the other week. I was SO excited that I made it right away!! I adapted as well and left out the greens she made it with. I think it was more like yours…I used just potatoes, eggs, extra virgin olive oil and sweet onions (sea salt/pepper).

    It was SO YUMMY and the exact taste I had been trying to create for years!!! It is life changing for me and I can’t wait to share it with her…I haven’t commented on her blog yet.

    Thanks for sharing (I saw this go through my twitterfeed)!! I’m afraid my post at some point will pale in comparison to yours…your photos are stunning!

  3. Aran says:

    this is gorgeous jen. how sharp and beautiful are your butterfly photos. that is insane. the tortilla looks amazing, the perfect color too. sometimes people brown it too much. thank you for this. it truly made my day! xx

  4. Perez says:

    If you dread the flip, which I sometimes do, you can get it to about the point where you’d flip it, then put it under a low broiler to finish the top.

    Very good with a little chorizo or jamon (or prosciutto, or Smithfield ham, if Spanish jamon is not available). Also – it’s pretty common to serve it with mayo, but I like it with lebneh.

    Hot or cold, tough to beat.

  5. Julia says:

    Tortilla de patatas is even better with Catalàn tomato coulis!!! Yum!!

  6. bekah jones says:

    I have the best memories of eating this in Spain as a student with absolutely no money. Can’t wait to try your recipe. Thanks!

  7. barbara says:

    I fell in love with this dish when we were in Spain. I think I ate it every day during the entire 6 weeks we were walking. Looking through my photos, I think I took a photo of every one I ate. I make mine using Aran’s method but only with potato and onion. (Jen the last 5 photos didn’t load properly for me)

  8. audra says:

    i love Butterfly Pavilion! it was a must-see when i brought my boyfriend to Denver to visit last June– he’s a microbiologist, and as he puts it, a “professional dork”. beautiful insects fall under his particular category of dork! you’re right though, it *is* expensive per person for such a small place. did you know there’s an iguana in the conservatory? i make it a game for myself to see if i can find her. ;) i don’t think i ever knew Rosie was named thus because of her species. i held one when i went several years ago and was surprised by how light it was, like a heavy feather. when we went in June, i asked about simply petting it, and was informed that petting would cause her to shed hairs that are extremely irritating to the skin. evolution and defense mechanisms are endlessly fascinating to me……

    the tortilla de patatas perplexes me, somewhat. how can something so simple garner such rave reviews? i do love potatoes though, and trust your judgement (i prefer salty WAY over sweet) so i think i’ll have to try it sometime. =) thanks for yet another lovely post!

  9. Cookie says:

    This looks simple and yummy! I love recipes like that!

  10. arugulove says:

    This looks so good. I love getting this dish at tapas restaurants, but the amount of olive oil required has scared me off from doing it at home. I should just suck it up and make it one of these days because I just know it would be so satisfying.

  11. Maya says:

    Can’t wait to try the Tortilla de Patatas recipe….but your photos are simply phenomenal.

  12. Dawn (KitchenTravels) says:

    I found Aran’s blog for the first time in January, and I happened to be home sick when she posted her tortilla recipe. I had lost my appetite from being sick, but her tortilla looked so appealing, I dragged myself to the kitchen that afternoon and made it. Heaven! It was seriously delicious. Yours looks beautiful, Jen – well done.

  13. Bing says:

    You’ve got me thinking about a return trip to the Butterfly Pavilion – it’s been a long time since I last went. Thanks also for turning me on to Helen and Aran’s blogs…more great food photography!

  14. Mrs Ergül says:

    Spanish style omelette?! I can’t pass up anything omelette! I want to try this! I usually do my omelette in a wok. What do you think if I try this spanish omelette in a wok??

  15. Kristin says:

    Oh, I’ve never been able to make a tortilla as good as the first I tried either. I’ll have to give this one a whirl. The butterfly photos really have me hating this snow & cold & wishing desperately for spring.

  16. Sally says:

    My girlfriend from Argentina makes this all the time! Now I will too- thanks!

  17. Linda says:

    Simple, but looks so satisfying. I’ll try it soon. And lots of options for experimentation. I had an amazing Cuban tortilla at a restaurant in Portland OR that had fried plantains & roasted garlic added, too. I’ve been wanting to recreate that ever since.

  18. Maggie says:

    Love your site. The butterflies are so beautiful. Tortilla is one of my favorite things! So few ingredients and very delicious.

  19. Mark Scarbrough says:

    Nice shots, to say the least. And a nice, straightforward, lovely recipe. I’m imagining it with, of all things, toasted chopped hazelnuts on top, just for a little crunch. And a glass of red wine, of course.

  20. Debbie says:

    This is perfect! Love eggs and potatoes and this looks tasty and simple!

  21. amy says:

    This looks awesome. Hmm…I wonder if I could dabble with it and put some duck fat in it…. : )

  22. Sandy says:

    wow, i must say i LOVE your blog! your pictures of the step by step are gorgeous! this recipe seems very simple with minimal ingredients, can’t wait to make it!!

  23. Eesh says:

    Hey Jen, I hope everyone you know in Chile from when you worked there is safe. As I’ve mentioned before, my fiance’s family lives in Santiago, so we’ve been watching the news very closely.

  24. Jayme says:

    Jen, I just made this omelette for a snack and am totally blown away how delicious it is! It’s amazing how good a few simple ingredients can be; thanks so much for sharing this recipe. It’s definitely going into heavy rotation in my kitchen. :)

  25. Anne says:

    thank you for posting- stumbled here via photograzing. been on the search for the perfect tortilla for about three years, ever since my homestay in madrid where the quintessential spanish abuelita made hers for me about once a week. very excited to test this one out!

  26. Daiming Zhu says:

    I love any kind of omelette! Especially one with cheeeese…
    I think eggs are a necessity in this world… don’t you?

  27. Florence says:

    jen, your pictures are so beautiful that they make my heart ache.

  28. Guindilla says:

    Looks good!

    In Spain you cut the potato into rondelles instead of cubes – it’s the first time I see that way – but I don’t think flavour changes that much.

    Ah… putting or not putting onion into the potato ommelette is a kind of religion war here in Spain. Some people swear onion should be added. Others affirm that if onion is added it is not a potato ommelette anymore, but a potato AND onion ommelette, and thus change totally :-) Just so you know it.


  29. Laura says:

    Made this omelette for breakfast on Sunday. Had some fire roasted NM green chile on the side. It was awesome!!!!!

  30. jenyu says:

    Aran – aww, thanks. Thank YOU for the recipe, I truly love it (and so does Jeremy – I’ve made it three times!!)

    Perez – isn’t that a frittata when it’s finished in the oven? Either way, it’s goooooooood :) Mmm, chorizo – sounds awesome.

    Barbara – are they loading now? I seem to get them w/o problem.

    Audra – I didn’t know about the iguana. I’ll have to look for her next time!

    Arugulove – there is a lot of oil leftover, which I strain and bottle for the next time.

    Mrs E – I think it should work, just keep the heat low so it doesn’t burn/brown :)

    Eesh – thanks. Most of my colleagues are in the north, but yes – they study earthquakes so they will likely head into the field if they aren’t there already. I hope your fiance’s family is ok. xo

    Daiming – I love eggs – LOVE.

    Florence – awww, you’re so very very sweet. xoxo

    Guindilla – my friend Aran is from Spain, and she’s a chef, so I doubt she’d steer me wrong :)

  31. Stephanie Manley says:

    If I had some potatoes in my house, I would walk into my kitchen and prepare this dish right now. This is a fabulous looking dish.

  32. Eesh says:

    Yes, they are all fine, thank you. I have a question about this recipe. While it has turned out SO delicious every time I’ve made it, it always sticks to the pan, although I use one exactly like yours in the pictures above. What do you think I might be doing wrong?

  33. jenyu says:

    Eesh – my first tortilla stuck to that pan. That’s not a nonstick pan. My second one was much better, I used a nonstick pan for it (but didn’t photograph it – sometimes there isn’t time). The recipe specifies a non-stick pan, so definitely use that.

  34. Mexican foodie says:

    Wow! I am gonna try this recipe very soon for my family! Thanks a lot for a really nice Mexican food treat!

  35. Irene says:

    Wow, that looks great! As a Spaniard myself, I’m ashamed to say I still gotta practice a lot on making the perfect tortilla…! I like mine with chopped sweet ham and cheese, tastes creamier and even yummier :)

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