Tortilla Española of Summer Squash

August 19, 2013

Every week, we’re unearthing Heirloom Recipes -- dishes that have made their way from one generation's kitchen to the next.

Today: Gabrielle Arnold of Honest Fare gives us a new egg dish, straight from her yaya's kitchen. 

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve eaten tortilla Española in my life -- at least hundreds, and very happily. My grandmother, or yaya, as I called her, was from the Catalan region of Spain and tortilla Española was her pride and joy to share. Yaya fled Catalonia with my avi (grandfather) at the start of the Franco dictatorship in the 1930s and transplanted in Venezuela, where they made a life for themselves and held on to their Catalan traditions. Tortilla reigned high on that list and was always on the table whenever I’d visit or they’d come stateside.  

Tortilla Española, or Spanish omelet, is hands down the most commonly served dish in Spain. The quintessential tortilla contains potatoes and onions, but there are several of variations of it and people tend to get creative with the combos (red peppers and onions, mixed veggies, peas, and even some containing ham or tuna fish). Tortilla will more than likely be the first thing you’re served on a visit to Spain. It’s something you order along with your tapas at the bar -- even bars that don’t serve tapas will at the very least have tortilla. It’s a staple in restaurants and homes of all classes, eaten at all times of the day and at all temperatures. It’s even popular as a sandwich between a sliced baguette!

It wasn’t until my yaya passed away and I was living in Spain after college that I started making tortilla for myself. Every time I make one now I think of her.  

The one I’ve made here contains 10 heavily beaten eggs combined with milk, summer squash, onions, parsley and garlic. I decided to slice the squash into ribbons using a mandolin, but little half moons or squares work just as well.

I crushed the garlic into almost paste form with a mortar and pestle, something I remember my yaya doing a lot to get a consistent texture and prevent her hands from getting stinky.

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A tortilla is very different that an omelet, which I’m sure you can tell just by looking at it. It’s more like a quiche without the crust, or a frittata that can be sliced and shared. What really sets the tortilla apart from the frittata is what I like to call “the flip”. The flip is the act of doing just that – flipping your tortilla over to cook the other side. With frittatas you’d simply place your loaded pan directly in the oven to cook the surface and bottom simultaneously, but the Spanish like to get fancy with it, so they flip.  

The flip is an art form that you can absolutely master and hopefully I can help you quickly get the hang of it…

The trick is to coat your pan with enough olive oil to sauté your fillings without anything sticking. You don’t want any bits sticking to the pan or your tortilla could also stick and fall apart during the infamous flip. Once the eggs are added, you’ll cook on medium low heat until it seems about 80% cooked through (like the photo above). It helps to continuously press your plastic spatula or wooden spoon against the perimeter of your tortilla and even fold over the edges a little while tilting your pan to release more raw egg into the pan.  Next, you’ll firmly place a large plate against the top of the pan, hold on tight and flip in one quick motion! Now you’ve got the cooked side up and raw side down on the plate, so you can just slide the tortilla right back into the pan to finish cooking that partially raw side.  Cook for another two minutes and repeat the flip of your beautiful finished product onto a clean plate for serving.  

Tortillas are great at room temperature so they’re perfect for potlucks and dinner parties. Or keep one in the fridge for up to 4 days and slice off a piece here and there. 

Tortilla Española of Summer Squash

Serves 4-6 people

8-10 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 yellow and 1 green summer squash
1/2 a small yellow onion
Handful of fresh parsley
Kosher sea salt
Black pepper
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Blissful Baker
    Blissful Baker
  • sexyLAMBCHOPx
I own a food truck and publish a recipe blog so I cook a ton! Mostly, I prepare healthy and vegetarian recipes because that's what I enjoy eating and sharing. I prefer simple, rustic cooking without a lot of steps or frills so that all the ingredients shine and I think it's just as important for something to look pretty as it is for it to taste good!


Blissful B. August 20, 2013
I love the tribute to your grandma and your heritage. I've never made a Spanish omelet before. I believe it's high time! Thanks for all the tricks on how to get it just right.
sexyLAMBCHOPx August 19, 2013
What a great story and recipe -- thank you for sharing. I need to make this ASAP!