When I first quit my corporate job to become a full-time food babe, I took on pretty much any gig that involved buttercream and not my naked body. I worked long hours in front of my computer bouncing between tabs of various recipe projects. I spent my days teaching 9-year olds how to bake homemade granola bars, and my nights lugging hundreds of mini meatballs to upscale Fashion Week parties, where no one wanted to eat them. And being a desperate freelancer trying to build word of mouth and make a name for myself, at the beginning, I often cooked a lot of these meals for free.
That all changed with the great Tortilla Espanola fiasco of 2011.
It was during one of these early years of hustle, when my friend Josh asked me if I would cater a big group dinner at his house. He gave me carte blanche with the food budget and summer menu, and being a newbie, I was thrilled to be learning on someone else’s dime, not to mention hosting my dream dinner party in a much superior setting than the coffee table in my 4th floor walkup.
Naturally, I proceeded to design a completely labor intensive, over-the-top array of tapas that I would serve to the group of 15. There would be lamb brochettes, avocado gazpacho with lobster tails, seafood paella, espinacas con garbanzos, and, of course, tortilla espanola.
I had eaten many slabs of tortilla espanola on my backpacking adventures in Spain. The deep dish potato omelet is so ubiquitous, I’d sampled it everywhere from fancy restaurants to bus station news cafes. But I had never actually made it before. And being young and green (i.e. an idiot), I thought the big tapas dinner party would be the perfect time to learn. Wasn’t that the whole point of having someone else foot the bill for my creative education? And besides, if every Spanish greasy spoon was serving up tortillas, how hard could they be?
The night before the party, the host kindly alerted me that the guest list had increased from 15 to 40. Instead of getting my prep work out of the way, I spent those precious hours going on another shopping excursion to double my ingredients. I figured some dishes would have to be scarce. So to bulk up the meal, I’d just make a few more tortillas.
As you can imagine, this ended the only way it could of ended: in burn marks, tears, and semi-raw scrambled eggs all over the floor.
Instead of going with a cast iron skillet (I like this one), which meant the top of the Spanish potato omelet could be finished under the broiler, I chose a large nonstick pan. This required me to invert the half-cooked tortilla onto a plate and slide it back into the skillet to cook the second side. I didn’t have a plate as large as the skillet, which turned an already messy maneuver into one that sloshed a wave of raw egg yolk onto the floor (and the Keds and skinny jeans in its path).
Needless to say, I discovered the hard way why they sell legit tortilla pans for this step.
After a few trash-can bound attempts, I somehow managed to produce one decent non-broken tortilla to bring to the party. My memory is a little hazy about the rest, since I’m pretty sure as soon as the buffet was set-up, I reimbursed my days of free labor by drinking an entire case of Josh’s wine.
Since then, I’ve become a much more practiced tortilla maker on the stovetop. But I’ve always fantasized about figuring out a way to do the whole thing in the oven. For one thing, the stovetop technique requires a shit ton of oil (to the tune of 4 CUPS!!). While most authentic recipes recommend you drain the starchy, oniony oil from the potatoes and save it for another use, this always seemed expensive and a recipe for another mess.
So finally this past month, I set out to make all of our collective tortilla espanola dreams come true. This recipe, my friends, is what my time traveler self would serve if I got a chance to go back to that miserable tapas dinner five years ago (also, my time traveler self would charge a lot of money for the privilege of making it). And since it’s my current healthy hedonist self designing this miracle recipe, I not only reduced the cleanup time and the oil, but added in an equal portion of thinly sliced zucchini to the mix.
So let me tell you how it’s going to go down:
Instead of frying stovetop, the potato slices get tossed in a modest amount of olive oil (I like this brand) and salt, arranged in an even (but over-lapping) layer in a baking dish and roasted for the same amount of time you would have to be standing up and stirring stovetop (20 minutes). At the same time, you can do the much less laborious task of sautéing the shallot and zucchini, which only takes 5 minutes, and thanks to its natural moisture, not much oil. Once both veggies are cooked, you combine them with the egg and bake the whole thing in a casserole dish in the oven.
The rectangular shape makes the final tortilla perfect for sectioning into bite-sized squares. It also means you can cut it into more manageable quadrants and use a flat metal spatula to remove the slices from the pan instead of attempting to invert it onto a cutting board.
And since we’re building a fantasy cooking scenario here: I topped each tortilla espanola bite with a dollop of lemon-paprika aioli.
If you’re not planning a 40-person tapas party this summer, the tortilla also would be amazing as a make-ahead lunch for your workweek brown bag. It’s excellent served room temperature, like at all those Spanish bus station cafes do. Or if your kitchen has a slightly less flexible health code, you can reheat in the microwave for 30 seconds to get piping hot again. Either way, there will be a lot of deliciousness, without all the blood, sweat and tears (and egg-yolk soaked sneakers) that come with other attempts.
Easy Baked Tortilla Espanola with Zucchini and Smoked Paprika Aioli
For the aioli:
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise or Vegennaise
- 1 garlic clove finely minced or pushed through a press
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Thinly slice the potato and zucchini 1/8-inch thick – this works best on a mandolin, but you can also do it by hand.
- Line a 9 x 13 baking dish with parchment paper. Toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Make sure each slice is coated in oil and arrange in an even layer. Bake in the oven until fork tender, about 25 minutes, tossing once halfway through. Set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Add the zucchini and shallot; cook over medium-high heat, flipping occasionally, until the veggies are soft and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and set aside with the potatoes to cool.
- While the veggies cool, in a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt until the eggs are light yellow and very well combined. Stir in the cooled potatoes, zucchini and shallot.
- Remove the parchment from the baking pan and brush generously with olive oil. Pour the egg mixture into the pan, spreading so that the potatoes are in an even layer. Bake for 25 minutes until puffed and lightly browned.
- Meanwhile, make the aioli: combine the mayo, garlic, 1 tablespoon parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice and paprika in a small mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add salt as necessary,
- Allow the tortilla to cool in the pan until set (the sides will pull away from the pan). Run a knife or spatula along the edges to loosen. Either invert the tortilla onto a cutting board, or if it isn’t loose enough along the bottom, cut it into four pieces in the pan and using a flat spatula, remove the slices to a cutting board.
- Cut the tortilla into 1 1/2-inch bite-sized squares. Serve alongside the aioli and garnish with the remaining parsley.