Tuesday, 11 June 2013 | 34 comments

With a pile of greens: Tortilla española

Maybe you’ve heard of Ruth Stout, who is quickly rising to the top of my Ideal Dinner Party Guest List (posthumously, sadly). She smashed saloon windows with Carrie Nation during temperance, and then went on to become a garden guru in the ’60s and ’70s. I’m reading her book called “Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy, and the Indolent”. (If nothing else: such an appealing title!) Stout champions a way of gardening that essentially has one tenet: mulch the heck out of everything with straw, organic matter, newspaper, and forget about the rest. No weeding, and the organic matter of the mulch is supposed to occupy pests just as much as much as your plants themselves. The end. How she manages to fill up a book with this information, I’m not sure, but she does, and she’s lovable and eccentric and I enjoy every minute of it. It comes as no surprise, I suppose, that this woman was known to garden in the nude (as if I could like her more).I’m not the kind of person who believes that everyone should grow things. But for people who do want to grow things and are looking for a gateway plant, I would suggest growing greens: head lettuce, romaine lettuce, loose-leaf lettuce, kale, collards, mustards, chard, and the like.

For those just starting to garden, greens are not the showy crop they aim to produce–tomatoes and squash and other more summery, evocative fruits and vegetables frequently take that distinction. To me, though, these are less rewarding than a patch of greens. With lettuce at your fingertips, you have a relatively easy-to-grow, frequently harvestable salad bar that lends itself to every day eating. So many humble meals, in fact, become just that—a meal—with a bunch of greens on the side.Ben’s favorite is a loaf of crusty bread, soft-boiled eggs, a massive amount of lettuce and mustardy vinaigrette. We like Nigella Lawson’s supper onion pie, too, with lots of leafy stuff on the side (Matthew Amster-Burton turned me onto that one). For myself, it doesn’t get much better than a tortilla española, that staple of Spanish cookery.

Tortilla is sometimes called a Spanish omelette, but I’ve always found that a bit inaccurate. It’s more like a potato cake bound together with eggs–potatoes are primary, eggs are secondary. I got addicted to tortilla in Valencia, where leftovers are served cold the next day on crusty white bread as sandwiches (starch-phobic Americans everywhere are shuddering as they read that, but it is so good). A true Spaniard serves tortilla with some very olive oil-y, soft sauteed peppers on the side, but I prefer it with–you guessed it—a pile of greens.

Tortilla española

My version uses a stovetop-to-oven cooking method, but some people consider this a bit inauthentic. Saveur has a stovetop-only version, but it is trickier—be warned. They must have gotten the same Spanish-madre advice as me, though: when in doubt, use a 1 egg to 1 potato ratio.

You’ll need

  1. At least 1/2 cup olive oil
  2. 6 medium potatoes, peeled if you care, and thinly sliced
  3. 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  4. 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
  5. 6 eggs
  6. Kosher salt and black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a thick-bottomed, oven-proof skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. When hot but not smoking, add the potatoes and toss in the oil, cooking for about 10 minutes, trying not to let them stick too much (because they will). After 10 minutes, add the onion and continue to cook another ten minutes. Both potato and onion should become soft and a little golden, but not brown. Add the garlic if using and saute for a minute or so more. Lower the heat in the skillet.
  3. Beat the eggs in a with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of black pepper until well combined. Add the egg mixture to the skillet, shaking the skillet to distribute the beaten eggs throughout the potato and onion mixture. Continue to cook on the burner until the edges of the tortilla begin to set.
  4. Transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the tortilla is cooked fully and the eggs are set but still tender.
  5. Remove the tortilla from the oven and allow to cool for ten minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge to loosen, place a plate on top of the skillet, and, using hot pads to protect your hands, quickly invert the tortilla so that it is flipped out onto the plate.
  6. Eat immediately, or serve tapas-style at room temperature after cooling, with a green salad.

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§ 34 responses to With a pile of greens: Tortilla española

  • I will have to check out that gardening book! I agree with you about greens–they’re very easy to grow, and if you stagger your planting, you can harvest all summer long without much effort. Very rewarding. With other sorts of vegetables, where you have to depend on flowering and bees and fruit to set, the wait is longer, and so much more heartbreak is possible! (I am hoping that the potential hail forecast for tomorrow does not materialize. I’ve invested myself in a couple of rows of favas, and I don’t know what I’ll do if they get hit hard.)

    Both the onion pie and your tortilla sound lovely. I’m always looking for something to sit beside a pile of greens these days too. Happy gardening!

  • Karen

    Absolutely agree about the greens – as the owner of just a small urban (London) garden, greens are my staple crop, chard in particular really does just ‘cut and come again’, enough for me and the slugs luckily! Also love a tortilla, a staple in our house, and funnily enough was just listening to the hilarious spilled milk podcast today!

  • I’ve been getting into gardening more and more these days, but, without a yard, it’s kind of impossible to go as crazy as I would like. Your garden looks amazingly beautiful, though! For now, I’ll just have to comfort myself with the thought that one day I will have such a space, too! And that there are fruit and olive trees galore waiting for me in Greece (hardly a cold comfort, right?).

    Also, about the tortilla, I found myself making a lot of tortillas this spring, thanks to my CSA sending me lots of potatoes. Although I’m a huge fan of the inauthentic method of putting the tortilla in the oven, I didn’t know the tip about ratios of potatoes to eggs. Thank you! I’ll keep this in mind for my next attempt.

  • This sounds soooo good!! Love this idea!

  • The book sounds wonderful and I know I would love Ruth Stout. I have to find that book. It must be still in print. Your greens look lovely as does the tortilla, everything sounds great and I love a big pile of greens with whatever I eat.

  • Apparently I’m being overly ambitious trying to grow tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers in my first-ever-real-garden (I grew tomatoes in a pot on my porch last year). I’ll have to do greens next year, or maybe plant them in the fall for greens all winter long!

    I fell in love with tortilla espanola in Valencia, too! Though I was quite appalled the first time my madre sent me a tortilla bocadillo for lunch–potatoes on bread is such a strange concept, but completely delicious. Yours is beautiful! Do you use a cast iron skillet?

    • Not overambitious! I’m growing tomatoes and such too :) It’s just that greens are nice and rewarding; and tomatoes can be heartbreaking.

      I do use cast iron for the tortilla. Thanks, Lindsey! –S

  • Your photos are lovely…

    I LOVE Ruth Stout!! I was a hippy chick in the 70s & 80s.. I was a hippy chick in the making in the 60s. ;) Im so glad to see more & more people learn of her.. The Back to Eden movement is taking everyone back to her methods. It makes me happy!

    I was introduced to a Spanish tortilla at my sisters wake.. One of her good friends is a college professor from Spain and that is what she brought to share for the meal.. It was awesome! I’ve tried to make it the traditional way but I think Im with you.. Gimme the Fast & Easy! :)

  • I must say, I’ve had a heckuva time with greens this year. They’re just not coming up, and I think it’s because it’s too hot. The spinach melted and withered away. And right now we’ve got one chard plant, 3 inches tall. Plus the kale is being munched on by voracious caterpillars. Maybe that mulch advice would help… Did you use shade cloth?

    Right now I’m finding peas to be the magical garden vegetable. I bought some dwarf grey sugar peas, as per your advice on sprouts, and they are displaying the most stunning magenta and blue flowers.

    But I will redouble my efforts regarding greens. Always lovely to see a new post from you!

    • Hmm. So I start my greens seedlings in January and stick them out super early, when it’s still quite cold (March-ish). This year, Ben made me a small low tunnel so they had heavy plastic sheeting over them during March and part of April. At this point, the plastic is off, and nearby trees have leafed out, putting them in the shade for part of the day, which helps too. They are definitely heat sensitive (in muggy Virginia, we are almost past time for lettuces; my mustards are bolting). So yes, I think the hot weather doesn’t help.

      Feel free to email me if you want to talk gardening more—I’m not an expert, but we can try and figure it out.—S

  • I will definitely looking into the book. I thought the same thing about the title as I read it, before getting to your parentheses! :) My host mother in Andalucia (I was in Granada) was more of a spinach tortilla maker, but there was a definite layer of potatoes in there too. I love their style of eating: thick coffee with plenty of sugar and cream in the morning; vegetables and potatoes, chicken or eggs, a soup or salad and an entire loaf of crusty bread with butter for lunch; leisurely small plates with tinto de verano or an easy bottle of wine for supper. You’ve made me nostalgic, and inspired to put together some easy meals in that style too. Thanks! Great pictures as always.

  • Elle

    I just watched a video interview of Ruth Stout on youtube and was amazed! And now I hear she wrote books as well? I can not wait to read it, thank you so much for the heads up! She is massively inspiring – wish I knew more about how she was raised because she’s a true independent spirit and coming from the time period she was alive, that is saying a lot.

  • Anne D.

    J’aime beaucoup recevoir vos articles. C’est comme de la poésie, texte et photos. Je ne suis pas une jardinière mais avec vous, je le regrette.

  • My brother lived for a year in Spain, outside of Madrid. I would go and visit him there – and we make a dish we to this day called “Ruined Tortilla” because his Spanish flatmates were SO HORRIFIED that we put greens in it! “You ruined it!” they yelled. Perhaps they would have taken more kindly to your greens-on-the-side version. I for one can’t wait to try it :) (And tell Ben – soft boiled eggs and greens and bread are the perfect meal, hands down.)

  • One of my favorite dishes and so easy to make at home, I wonder why I don’t make it more often. Thank you for reminding me!

  • I love the Spanish tortilla. I use the stove top method and basically boil my potatoes in oil and then drain the oil off and add the potatoes to the eggs, if you can overcome the freak out of boiling the potatoes in oil it does give the tortilla a wonderful rich flavor and seasons your skillet wonderfully as well.

    • It takes a lot to freak me out, fat-wise…in Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir she writes about being in Greece and eating greens that have been (something along the lines of) “drowned (glorious death!)” in olive oil. I think about that a lot.

  • Just requested Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy, and the Indolent from my library. Thanks!

  • The book sounds just the thing that I must give to my avid gardener mum. I’m in Mali at the moment and dreaming of green things to eat (rocket, endive, lettuce) that aren’t possible to eat without a good deal of bleach. I have food envy!!

  • Came across your blog and am in love with the posts, will be spending some time here to catch up on everything. Greens are such a great thing for beginner gardeners, as well as radishes. I think if everyone started out with radishes and saw how quickly and beautifully they grow, it would be encouraging! :)

  • I love growing greens. We’ve been eating greens every meal for a few months now. I go back & forth between greens & pasta and greens & eggs for dinner every night.

  • Made the tortilla last night for dinner, enjoyed the leftovers reheated today for lunch. Pile of greens on the side, of course. Thanks for this, Sarah. There will at least be a couple weeks more of salad greens, so it’s always nice to have something easy to make to go alongside them.

    P.S. If you need something else in your greens-accompanying repertoire, another favourite of mine these days is Ottolenghi’s Smoky Frittata. It also reheats well. It’s in Plenty.

  • I don’t know where I’ve been, but did not know about Ruth Stout! (And by the way, today is her birthday! how serendipitous.) I moved from the country, where I spent years creating a garden, and then to the city, where I have., after more years, created a lovely herb and flower garden, but I miss vegetables. We are about to move again, and I hate leaving it behind, but look forward to starting a new one, with lots of mulch and definitely greens.. At some point gardening became too much like housework outdoors, and I became dispirited about it. My herbs–now gloriously established and gorgeous–have kept me happy. But I have discovered one thing that I am taking to my new place, and that is to HIRE some people to do the heavy work if your significant other is simply not too handy or interested!! After that, I intend to mulch the hell out of vegetables, and look forward to having lettuces and radishes again! I always love reading your posts, Sarah. Thank you.

  • Margit Van Schaick

    Sara, your photos of your garden, with sunlight on the leaves with all their different colors gladden my heart. I love gardening. Even a small kitchen garden can add so much to our meals. I’m inspired by your recipes. How are your baby chicks coming along?

  • Mary

    I thank you, Sarah, for the encouragement to plant greens. I will have to do a little research to see when to plant for Georgia but would love my own fresh dandelion greens and arugula.. I have a small herb garden and could easily fit in a few greens. I like the simplicity of your recipes..

    Wishing you and Ben well.
    Mary

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