|Spanish tortilla based on a scrumptious "Moro" recipe.|
Exotic eating was very much in vogue in the 1970s, which represented a time of transition in terms of the UK's culinary heritage. Historically, British cooking had been diverse and inventive, but coinciding - and probably as a result of - the great wars of the 20th century, our relationship with food seemed to lose its way. Wartime rationing meant that our cuisine became bland and mundane. At least until we discovered, and took to our hearts/stomachs, food from across the world.
Like many people growing up in urban areas of the UK in the 70s I became aware of, and fascinated by, the increasing prevalence of restaurants serving the food of India (technically, more usually that of Pakistan or Bangladesh), China and Italy. This growth in "exotic" new fare was no accident, but resulted from those who emigrated to the UK from across the globe during the last century expressing their culture in culinary terms, and sharing this with people already resident here. And we Brits loved it!
Yet surprisingly, there was one culture that Britons became increasingly familiar with during the 1970s and 80s that seemed to have scant influence on our eating patterns. With millions of us annually jetting off to Spain each year, why was it that the superb food of that country failed to become ingrained in our culinary psyches? Maybe it was because the nature of the package holiday meant that holidaymakers from the UK had only limited exposure to authentic Spanish cooking. Or perhaps (at least until the relatively recent economic turmoil within Europe caused significant migration) there simply wasn't a large enough Spanish community within the UK to provide a genuine Iberian dining experience for those returning from the fortnight of sunshine on the costas.
This all goes to explain why the pea-festooned "Spanish omelette" of my youth bore little resemblance to the "tortilla española/de patatas" I first sampled in Barcelonan tapas bar in the mid-1990s. It is a dish that exemplifies the, often, uncomplicated nature of Spanish cuisine (although Ferran Adrià might dispute that assertion). Fundamentally it comprises merely three ingredients; onion, potato and eggs - plus seasoning. Yet it is also a dish the flavour of which is substantially greater than the sum of its parts, simultaneously being sweet, earthy and rich, but also fresh tasting.
In an ideal world, tortilla de patatas should be enjoyed on a sunny Spanish terrace, accompanied by a cool glass of beer. But as balmy spring weather starts to make its presence felt in the UK why not rustle up this simple and delicious dish to be enjoyed - hot or cold - as part of some home-based al fresco dining? The recipe below is pretty authentic, being my evolution of one contained within the truly splendid Moro - The Cookbook. Rather than deep-fry the potatoes (as the original recipe requires) I prefer to parboil them until they are just cooked, drain them and allow any excess moisture to steam away. I have also been known to add a small green pepper to the onion, to give an even greater sweet-earthy, grassy accent.