The year was 1954. The country, Spain. In a quaint, unassuming bar that was caught somewhere between Madrid and Burgos, two imbibing Englishmen were enjoying some libations when one of them said to the other, “You know, this is Hemingway country. Wouldn’t it be a scream if Papa Hemingway was in here having a drink?” As luck and a lovely dose of fate would have it, “Papa” Hemingway was in that very drinking establishment and, highly amused by the situation I’m sure, he moseyed over to the two men and casually asked, “Gentlemen, what will it be?”
When I read a book that I really really like, I tend to become more immediately intrigued with its author than with its protagonist, antagonist, or any other character for that matter. I find that I always want to know about the person who dreamed up the characters rather than the actual characters themselves. I become literarily smitten until the last page is turned, flipping the book’s back cover open countless times to stare at the author’s headshot, if there is one, and just wondering about them. I literally sit in wonderment at how and what and why the story was created. It never fails, this author pondering of mine, and in fact, it’s probably why it takes me longer to read books than it should. I can’t help it.
Of all the authors for whom I have fallen over the years, there is none I adore more than Ernest Hemingway. I owe this fondness to my time spent working at a local bookstore in my small Virginia hometown. When you work at a bookstore, the topic and question of one’s favorite books comes up with relative frequency. I would imagine the same thing can be said about people who work at record stores and movie theaters. My fascination with Hemingway began after The Old Man and the Sea was recommended to me by a supervisor of mine at the bookstore. Actually, to say it was recommended is an understatement, really. I worked at this store for years and years and saw a lot of other employees come and go, most of whom I probably shared the “favorite book of all time” conversation with, at one time or another. But no one was more definitive or convincing of their love than George. Upon his learning that I’d never read it, wonderful and thoughtful George proceeded to march over to the English section (this was a college bookstore), and he procured me a used copy to call my own.
“You have to read it. This book will leave a mark on you, just you watch.” I was convinced, and he was right. So began my longtime love affair with Ernest Hemingway, which now brings me to the topic of the Spanish tortilla and its relevance to my ramblings thus far. There is relevance, I promise.
I visited Spain about six years ago and was completely taken with the country and its many, many charms. I was particularly excited about our stop in the cliffside Andalusian town of Ronda, home to modern Spanish bullfighting and an inspiration for a character in Hemingway’s, The Sun Also Rises, a copy of which I actually had with me on this trip (nerd alert!). Anyway, at one point during our group’s wanderings in this charming old town, we all stopped for a coffee and snack break. Having stubbed multiple toes after a less than graceful fall on one of Ronda’s heavily cobbled streets, I opted to sit at a table outside the small cafe where we had stopped.
6 – 7 red potatoes, thinly sliced or two large russets)
Extra-virgin olive oil, for frying (about 2 – 3 cups)
1 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced
3 teaspoons kosher salt
10 large eggs
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons honey
Garnishes: small roasted red peppers or crumbled goat cheese/Manchego cheese
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Thinly slice the potatoes (I don’t bother to peel them, but you can). Soak the slices in water for 5 minutes. Drain then and dry them completely by patting them with either a kitchen towel or paper towels.
Meanwhile, pour an olive oil into a large saucepan to a depth of about 1/2”. Set the heat under your pan to medium (around 310 degrees). Add the onions to the olive oil and fry them, stirring occasionally, just until they’re golden in color (6 – 8 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, scoop the onions from the oil and drain on a paper-towel lined plate or baking sheet.
Add half of the sliced potatoes, and fry them in the same oil until they’re golden and a slightly puffy, about 10 minutes. Scoop the potatoes from the oil and add to the onions. Season with two teaspoons of salt. Repeat with the remaining potatoes. Keep your oil – don’t discard! Season the cooked vegetables with salt.
Break the eggs into a large bowl. Whisk just enough to combine about 15 times. Add the potatoes and onions and remaining teaspoon of salt.
Heat a medium (10-inch) nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil. Add the tortilla mixture and stir with a spatula to get peaks and valleys in the folds of the egg, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the eggs are set but still loose, about 5 minutes.
Lay a flat pan lid or a plate on top and invert the tortilla. Add more oil to the pan if needed, and slide the tortilla back in. Cover and keep cooking it until it is set and golden brown, about 3 – 4 more minutes.
Meanwhile, make the tomatoes. Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet and coat with the honey, tossing them all around to coat. Roast in your preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until burst and caramelized (lightly browned).
Slide your finished tortilla out of the pan to a cutting board to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temp topped with the honey roasted tomatoes and the garnishes of your choosing.