Friday, February 4, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie: When a Tortilla is Not a Tortilla

I suppose I should give full disclosure right up front: I'm Basque by heritage (well, with some Italian and Croatian thrown in for good "even tempered" measure).  I've been to the Basque country, for my honeymoon(!), and I have two things I'd like to share.

1. In the "Bonne Idée" when DG writes that this comes from "the land of ham"?  She ain't kiddin'.  I was dying for some chicken by the time we finished traveling around that part of Spain and France (and northern Portugal too, for that matter).  Talk about a departure from Mediterranean cuisine!  It was good and all, but at times I felt like I was the guy from Forrest Gump: pork/ham sandwiches, pork/ham po' boys, braised pork, pork bacon,  pork lardons, pork prosciutto, etc.  In retrospect, that trip may have been why I didn't really cook pork for a year or so, other than bacon (of course).

2. One of my favorite stories to tell is about our arrival into the Basque country at our hotel in San Sebastian.  We have been flying for many hours, from the Western US to Madrid, via NY, and then on to Bilbao where we picked up our rental car.  I'll add here that we got a super deal and paid only 400 dollars per ticket.  Yes, that's right.  400 per ticket, including taxes, because of a constellation of reasons (just after 9/11 and an airline decided to go international to the US right then).  Anyway, we drove the hour or so to San Sebastian and headed up to our hotel overlooking the bay and the entire city.  It was one of our splurge nights and I had requested for there to be a bottle of sparkling wine in our room.  Apparently, we arrived a bit earlier than they expected, even though it was already 5 pm local time.  This rather austere looking woman was speaking to my husband, who's fluent in Spanish (and I mean fluent--not that "I can get around" type of fluent), and she asks what type of sparkling we'd like: a champagne or a cava.  My partner in life told her that, since we were in Spain, it would be fitting to have a Spanish wine.  As we are both grinning the now severe-looking woman replied, "You are not in Spain.  You are in the Basque Country."  Whoops!  That's the way to endear yourself to the locals!  It's likely a better story in person, but you get the picture.  It was awkward.

There it is.  Also, these are some of my people and I'm super excited to see that I can order the cerises noires online!  Now I can make the cookbook's Gateau Basque and not worry that I'm using my one and only jar that I got from France.

On to the dish!  This week's recipe was a Basque Tortilla, which is really not a tortilla.  It's like a frittata.  I keep threatening to look up the etymology of the word "tortilla" so that I can understand why/how/if the Spanish egg version came first and why the floury/corny Mexican tortilla has the same name.  I clearly have yet to do so. 

The things I did differently

1. I browned some pancetta in a separate pan and then added it to the eggs with the potato-onion mixture.  
I love pancetta, and anything remotely related to bacon, and I happened to have a partial package in the fridge that was begging me to use it.  Suffice it to say, it was a lovely addition.

2. Rather than just any old salt and pepper for flavoring, I added some Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning.  It has long been a staple with eggs in our house, especially with a certain someone being from New Orleans (and that someone is NOT me).

3. To further change up the seasoning, I used Aleppo pepper instead of Piment d'Espelette.

4. I used a stainless steel pan because the only cast iron one I have is a grill pan. 

5. I didn't broil it.  And I'm now realizing that I have a 10" Staub enameled cast iron pan I could've used, but I guess I was worried about the high heat in the oven (?).  Who knows what was going on in my head.

Things I was not overly pleased with: 
1. Man, this recipe took FOREVER.  This is the first quibble I've had with this cookbook (and I've made more recipes than just what I've done for FFwD).  She writes to lower the temp, but I'm not really sure how much--to Low?  Medium-Low?  Mostly Medium and only a tad Low?  So, I put it on Low (2 on my gas burner) for the 8-10 minutes wherein it should firm up but for the middle circle.  After 10 minutes, it had barely firmed up at all!  That 8-10 minutes ended up being more like 25 minutes.

2. The second part is more my fault.  Or at least that of my equipment. I have a gas oven with that ridiculous bottom drawer broiler.  I hate that thing and I refuse to use it, for many reasons that I won't disclose here.  (My word, I want a new range/oven combo, but I need to save up for it!)  Anyway, once the mixture finally started to really firm up on the stovetop, I then stuck it in a 500-degree oven.  That also took another 10 minutes or so to finish cooking.  Oh, and she's right in the cookbook: watch it carefully.  I got a bit careless after the timer went off one too many times, and my tortilla was a tad too browned.
It also stuck to the pan a bit!  Probably because I used the wrong pan.

Final verdict: Wonderful!  If I hadn't slightly overcooked it it would've been even better!  I can see this dish being really versatile as an appetizer, a main course, or a side dish, serving it warm or room temp.  That is a fantastic thing!  

We had it with a salad of Totsoi greens.  (If you haven't had a chance to try this Asian green that is related to mustard, I really recommend it; it's usually found at Farmer's Markets or in a CSA shipment.)

The Wine?  Well!  Basque wine is actually super interesting (to a wine nerd like me).  Many of their vines are pre-phylloxera--that is a pest that nearly decimated European grape vines in the 19th century. It was only by grafting American grape vine root stock that are resistant to said pest to their  European vine cuttings that they were able to salvage their vineyards.  It was a big deal.  Apparently with the relative inaccessibility (and perhaps also undesirability) of the Basque grapes, their Ondarrabi varietals that make up the red and white versions of Txakoli escaped the nastiness.  

So, there are the wine geeks who really want try unknown varietals...then these same varietals become relatively popular.  I'm not quite geeky like that (there are other ways in which my geekitude knows no bounds), but this time I was actually interested.  I just happened to find a place that sold one of these popular varietals when said wine was enjoying a naissance.  (I'd say renaissance, but that means "rebirth" and requires there was a first wave of popularity.)  I bought a few bottles of this Txakolina Rose.  It's a sparkling wine that has a ton of vegetative/herbaceous characteristics, which are normally considered a fault.  Indeed, the red Txakolina we got was also super vegetative.  The vegetals recede, though, with food--especially food like this Basque Tortilla that is effectively a pintxo (Basque tapa)--and the fruit and acid take over to create a fairly nice, and unique, pairing.  

Also a huge plus in my book?  It has BUBBLES!

Anyway, if you can still find this (you can buy it here, depending on your ship-to state:, I'd suggest giving it a try, but seriously: it is not a sippy wine.  Do not pour a glass to have before dinner.  You will probably not like it very much.

So, there it is.

I'm in the midst of prepping for some people to come over for dinner tomorrow night.
I'm making the short ribs, but I'm changing up the recipe.  I'm using boneless short ribs to save on some fat and I've fiddled with the liquid amounts. Basically, I'm using the ingredients from the book, and then combining techniques from three different cookbooks.  I'll be pairing it with horseradish mashed potatoes, and a choice of the gremolata OR frizzled leeks.  I think my guests will be very disappointed (HA!).

I'll also be doing the orange-almond tart.  Sorta.  I've actually made the latter before I started with FFwD and it was wonderful.  So, to change things up a bit, I'm going to make it with pears, as suggested in the Bonne Idée! 


  1. Definitely had temperature confusion when making this. I finally threw an inverted plate over mine while it was cooking since I had no idea how else to get it moving along... It looks like it worked out well for you!
    I agree - the tart is wonderful!

  2. Thanks, Cher! I'll keep that in mind for the next time I make this. I just had the normal pan lid on and it was just not firming up. I guess it's just one those things that is really specific to your equipment, etc.

  3. I love the color on yours. Mine was a tad overcooked as well but I like my eggs that way. Great ideas for switching up the ingredients!

  4. It still looks good, even though you felt it got a bit brown. Let me know if you figure out the answer to that which tortilla came first thing, it is something I've wondered myself.

  5. Looks so golden brown and tsty! You can't even tell it stuck to the pan!

  6. I seasoned mine with Aleppo too! My latest spice crush.

  7. Your addition of the pancetta sounds delicious!

  8. You'll be interested to know I have a Tapas cookbook that has a whole section on tortillas. The book says that the word for both the Spanish tortillas and Mexican tortillas come from the Latin word torte, which means a round cake!

  9. Your tortilla looks fabulous...and thanks for the introduction to a new green :)

  10. I am going to have to try the Aleppo and some of your other suggestions. I think your tortilla (I would be interested in knowing the etymology of this word as well) looks super.

  11. Thanks @things from scratch! I did look it up and it seems that other than the Latin word root, there's no other real connection. @DessertbyCandy, I agree with the Aleppo spice crush!

  12. Thanks for sharing your travel story and also your wine notes. I'm really enjoying hearing about your wine pairings.

  13. That would have been awkward moment getting off the plane...but it can be like in Vegas (What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas....LOL!)
    Your Basque Potato Tortilla sounds soooo good with pancetta!
    Take care,

  14. I loved reading your stories! I used some duck fat in my tortilla, and we liked it, although it is not one of my favorites. Next time I'll have to experiment with additions.
    My Orange Walnut (allergies:) Tart is in the oven and it smells great.
    Cannot wait to see what everybody else thought about it (the pears would be wonderful:)
    Greetings from SoCal!
    Lana (

  15. Stories are good and always an opportunity to learn something new!
    Keep them coming!
    Your photos look really good!