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In Spain, eggs are for anytime

Tom McCorkle/The Washington Post
From the classic tortilla to the humble revueltos and beyond, Spain introduces a new way to enjoy eggs.

I grew up in rural suburbia an hour north of Seattle. Every year, on our acre of land, we raised two cows, two pigs (always named Roto and Rooter), and a hundred or so chickens. We also had a dozen egg-laying hens. That meant we ate a lot of eggs. Fried. Poached. Soft-boiled. Scrambled. But these were always – and only – for breakfast.

It was something of an adjustment, then, when I settled in Spain 20 years ago and found that eggs were frequently eaten for lunch or dinner or as a midmorning snack – but never for breakfast. And that they were prepared in far more interesting ways.

My adaptation began, appropriately enough, with the first dish I learned to make in Barcelona, the humble and iconic tortilla de patatas. A thick wedge of egg layered with tender slices of potato is one of Spain’s culinary highlights, especially when served alongside country bread rubbed with tomato and doused with olive oil.

My future brother-in-law taught me to keep the inside moist, with the egg still a touch runny at the center, and to mix in an equal amount of onions with the potatoes for both texture and sweetness. “The key to a successful tortilla is the flip,” he stressed, and demonstrated how to turn over the half-cooked mass using a plate without making a mess or burning myself. Soon mastered, the dish has been a staple.

While matchless for many Spaniards, potato (and onion) is far from the only type of tortilla. Cooks make them with a range of fillings, including eggplant, artichokes, zucchini and mushrooms. In the Basque country, salt cod is typical.

Spanish egg dishes go beyond tortillas, though, and I more frequently prepare revueltos, the local version of scrambled eggs. The name comes from the verb “revolver” (to turn or to stir), which is a more precise way of describing the light stirring used when cooking.

With no need to flip, a revuelto is easier to prepare than a tortilla. It also nicely absorbs the flavors of the changing seasons. Wild mushrooms, say, or asparagus with peeled shrimp (and, ideally, some tender garlic shoots) are sautéed, and then whisked eggs poured into the pan. After a handful of seconds to allow them to begin to set, the eggs are turned a couple of times with wide sweeps with a wooden spoon – no more, and certainly not vigorously “scrambled” – until just cooked but still moist. The eggs are silky and in large “pieces” rather than nubby.

Traveling around Spain, I have often been surprised at the many other ways an egg or two can quickly convert a small dish into a meal. With a chopped hard-boiled egg, a bowl of gazpacho becomes enough for a light summer dinner, and by cracking an egg into sopa de ajo and allowing the whites to just set before serving, garlic soup moves from a first course to a main one in winter. In Andalusia, cooks give wilted spinach leaves a hearty dash of sherry vinegar and then top them with a poached egg for an easy supper or a delightful, sophisticated tapa.

Of course, the most common way to prepare eggs in Spain is fried in olive oil.

I have found no better way to eat fried eggs than as huevos estrellados, “crashed” atop fried potatoes and often covered with a slice of dry-cured Spanish jamón Ibérico. This is the type of pure Spanish comfort food that certain elegant, clubby restaurants serve as well. With a glass of red wine, the dish gets elevated from divine simplicity to pure sublimity in a perfect combination of flavors.

SPINACH LEAVES WITH SHERRY VINEGAR AND POACHED EGGS

Servings: 4

1½ pounds fresh baby spinach leaves

Tom McCorkle/The Washington Post
Vinegar adds a heady, aromatic note, but should not completely dominate the flavors of Spinach Leaves With Sherry Vinegar and Poached Eggs.

Salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic

1 slice baguette or small piece crustless country bread, day-old or toasted, about ½ ounce

1 teaspoon sweet/mild Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón)

Sherry vinegar (may substitute another wine vinegar)

4 large eggs

Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Place the spinach in a bowl; wash/rinse in a couple of changes of water, then drain.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 2 generous pinches of salt, then add the spinach; cook for about 3 minutes, just until it begins to wilt but is still vivid green. Reserve about ½ cup of the cooking liquid, then strain the spinach into a colander set in the sink.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic and bread; cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until golden. Transfer the garlic and bread to a mortar and pestle. Remove the pan from the heat.

Add the Spanish smoked paprika and 2 or 3 tablespoons of the reserved spinach cooking liquid to the garlic and bread; pound the mixture into a paste. (Alternatively, you can use a mini food processor, pulsing to form a paste.)

Spoon the paste into the pan, then add about ¼ cup of spinach cooking liquid. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring to form a loose sauce.

Return the spinach to the pan along with a dash of vinegar; cook for 2 minutes, turning the leaves to blend well, or until the flavors are combined. Divide the spinach among wide, shallow bowls, smoothing the spinach into a bed. Cover to keep warm.

Bring a wide saucepan of water to a low boil over medium heat. Slip in the eggs, one at a time, and poach until the whites are just set but the yolks still runny.

Use a slotted spoon to place one egg atop each bowl of spinach. Generously season with pepper, if desired, and serve right away.

PER SERVING: 190 calories; 13 g total fat; 3 g saturated fat; 185 mg cholesterol; 380 mg sodium; 9 g carbohydrates; 4 g dietary fiber; 0 g sugars; 12 g protein.

ZUCCHINI TORTILLA

Servings: 2

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic

Zucchini Tortilla is a simple, quick supper. Feel free to add sautéed onion to the mixture.

2 zucchini (about 1¼ pounds total), rinsed and cut crosswise into thin rounds

4 large eggs

Salt

1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in an 8- to 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic; cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant, then discard the garlic.

Add the zucchini; cook for about 8 minutes, or until tender. Transfer to a bowl.

Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl. Season them lightly with salt and add the parsley, if using. Add the cooked zucchini, gently pushing it down into the eggs.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in the same skillet, over high heat. Pour in the egg-zucchini mixture. Immediately reduce the heat to low and swirl the pan for a few seconds to keep the eggs from sticking. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the bottom is golden and the tortilla is set.

Grasp handle of the pan in one hand; protectively drape a dish towel across the forearm and wrist of the other. Place a plate over the pan that’s large enough to cover it, then firmly press it to the pan so nothing will spill out. Carefully and quickly invert the tortilla onto the plate, and then immediately slide the tortilla off the plate and back into the pan. Swirl the pan in a circular motion to settle the tortilla and keep it from sticking. Cook for an additional 2 minutes or so, until firm yet still moist in the center.

Invert the tortilla onto a clean plate. Dab off any excess oil with a paper towel. Let it cool for a bit before cutting into fat wedges.

PER SERVING: 380 calories; 31 g total fat; 6 g saturated fat; 370 mg cholesterol; 460 mg sodium; 11 g carbohydrates; 3 g dietary fiber; 7 g sugars; 16 g protein.

SCRAMBLED EGGS WITH MUSHROOMS AND JAMON

Servings: 2

4 large eggs

Salt

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

6 ounces mixed fresh mushrooms, cleaned and cut into quarters or sliced

It’s important to allow all the mushrooms’ moisture to evaporate before adding them to Scrambled Eggs With Mushrooms and Jamon.

1 clove garlic, minced

1 ounce dry-cured Spanish jamon, finely chopped (may substitute prosciutto)

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl. Season them lightly with salt.

Heat the oil over high heat. Add the mushrooms; cook for about 5 minutes, until their moisture has evaporated and their edges begin to brown.

Reduce the heat to medium; add the garlic and jamon. Cook for about 30 seconds, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant.

Pour the eggs into the pan. Cook, undisturbed, for 10 seconds, and then stir in six or eight large, generous sweeps around the pan with a wooden spoon, turning the eggs over, until the eggs are done but still quite moist, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Divide between plates, lightly drizzle with oil, generously season with pepper and garnish with the parsley. Serve right away.

PER SRVING: 260 calories; 18 g total fat; 5 g saturated fat; 380 mg cholesterol; 830 mg sodium; 4 g carbohydrates; 0 g dietary fiber; 2 g sugars; 19 g protein.

ROSA’S SPINACH EGG TORTILLA WITH PINE NUTS AND RAISINS

Servings: 2

¼ cup seedless golden raisins

¼ cup pine nuts

8 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Tom McCorkle/The Washington Post
Rosa’s Spinach Egg Tortilla With Pine Nuts and Raisins is an unusual, but delicious, flavor combination.

2 cloves garlic

3 large eggs

Salt

Soak the raisins in a small bowl of warm water for 10 minutes, then drain.

Toast the pine nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for several minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool.

Place the spinach in a bowl; wash/rinse in a couple of changes of water, then drain.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 8- to 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic; cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant, then add the spinach and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently until it has wilted. Transfer to a bowl, discarding the garlic.

Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl. Season them lightly with salt.

Pour off any moisture from the spinach. Add the spinach to the eggs, along with the reserved raisins and pine nuts.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the same skillet, over high heat. Pour in the egg mixture. Immediately reduce the heat to low, swirling the pan for a few seconds to keep the eggs from sticking. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the bottom is golden and the tortilla is set.

Grasp handle of the pan in one hand; protectively drape a dish towel across the forearm and wrist of the other. Place a plate over the pan that’s large enough to cover it, then firmly press it to the pan so nothing will spill out. Carefully and quickly invert the tortilla onto the plate, and then immediately slide the tortilla off the plate and back into the pan. Swirl the pan in a circular motion to settle the tortilla and keep it from sticking. Cook for an additional 2 minutes or so, until firm yet still moist in the center.

Invert the tortilla onto a clean plate. Dab off any excess oil with a paper towel. Let it cool for a bit before cutting into fat wedges.

PER SERVING: 490 calories; 40 g total fat; 6 g saturated fat; 280 mg cholesterol; 490 mg sodium; 22 g carbohydrates; 4 g dietary fiber; 12 g sugars; 16 g protein.

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