A little later than anticipated, I finally got round to organising my tapas extravaganza, all in honour of Andrew's WTSIM event this month. And if you haven't had the time to send in your entry yet, you should know that he has gracefully extended the deadline - no excuses now!
I am not sure why, but up until now, I had this immense fear of tortilla failure... and I don't even think it was due to scaremongering, it's more the fact that all the Spaniards I know (and even those who aren't Spanish, but are in love with Spanish food) seem to be extremely opinionated or simply picky when it comes to a tortilla española or Spanish omelett. Whenever I have eaten tortilla in the presence of Spanish friends, I have never heard a word of praise for it, it was always "too dry", "overcooked", "bland", "rubbery" or "just not how they make it here or there". So to get a tortilla right, I was assuming, you needed immense skill and hundreds of years of experience. After last week's first attempts, I can safely say that this is not the case, a natural talent or beginner's luck, maybe (patting herself on shoulder), but I believe to have found out that the quintessential factor is that it must be boiling hot outside so you can stand there over the hot stove, sweat running down your forehead, spine and just about everywhere imaginable and then you can make a pretty darn tasty tortilla just like a Spanish mama would.
When I called my friend Sonia to ask for rough guidance on how to make one (I had seen her do it a million times and never actually jotted down any notes), I was brave enough to pass an idea past her.
I: "So, what if I wanted to give the tortilla a little twist, you know, more than just potato and egg?"
She: "Well, some people put onion in."
(Me, thinking: well, that's a bit plain still.)
Me (actually saying out loud): "I was thinking more along the lines of feta, chilli and parsley".
She (not saying anything for a moment, just gasping along the lines of that's heresy, and if the tortilla really needed it, don't you think that 46,661,950 people would have gone and done something about it? And who the f*** do you think you are anyway, you bloody foreigner, to think you can change our culinary traditions just because you feel like it?)
In her defense, I have never heard her swear, this last bit is completely made up, but it might well have been racing through her mind. Understandably so.
Undeterred, I decided to go for the "adventurous, but still authentic" version that involved some chopped onions and then I did the unimaginable. I made a second lot, defiling the graves of my dear friend's ancestors by putting in some diced feta, chopped chilli and parsley... and you know what, my guests (admittedly completely ignorant when it comes to Spanish food) preferred that second version. But I didn't leave it at that, I had to get Sonia's opinion as well - she praised my traditional tortilla, saying it was tasty and moist and everything you'd expect, she wasn't raving about the eccentric version, which is just as well... but her kids ate it without complaints and they're pretty fussy and strongheaded usually, so I take this as a point in my favour.
I also made some gambas al ajillo, always a winner in my book with loads of garlic and chilli - although I love my
prawns, it is the juices I make this for - brilliant for mopping up
with some home-made sourdough! Inspired by Sonia's home region of the
Basque country and their own twist on tapas (which the call pintxos...
don't you love that name?) I made some pintxos of sauteed garlic & herb mushrooms with prawns.
And again, although the prawns add a lovely colour and give it that
little extra in the looks department, I am just as happy just with the
mushrooms fried in a pan, drizzled with garlic and oil, then deglazed
with sherry vinegar.
All in all, I made a vow to make tapas more often and especially the tortilla, which is not that hard to make at all - and seeing that it's one of my daughter's favourite foods, I better indulge her with it more often. Do try them all and see what you think: if you have no ties to Spain other than the odd vacation, try the "adventurous" version - I find it light, refreshing and super yummy. I also served this as part of a picnic spread at the Royal Henley Regatta and it went down a treat. It would be a shame to discard such a winning recipe just on the grounds of it not being entirely original, I hope you'll agree!
The deadline for WTSIM has just been extended, as Jeanne, Andrew and myself were roasting in the sun at the Royal Henley Regatta on Saturday, we figured it's been hot enough out there to give you and ourselves a break... check details on SpittoonExtra - no excuses now not to indulge in a tapas evening!