The New Convivialist

Month: November, 2011

Tortilla Española with a Twist

I am crazy for Spanish Tortilla. Really, it is one of the most satisfying dishes I can think of, and what’s more, it’s appropriate for any time of the day or season of the year. Now, in Spring or Summer I would never even think about varying the traditional potato, onion and egg mixture, but when Fall rolls around, and those fresh root vegetables are ubiquitous, I inevitably substitute sweet potatoes in nearly every recipe that would normally call for regular potatoes. I’ve been doing it with tortilla española for years, and folks, if I can brag, I honestly feel that I have struck gold with this one. The sweetness of the potatoes beautifully counteracts the intense savor and salt of the olive oil-drenched onions and eggs.

Last week, I cooked up a big meal with friends in order to test some recipes for an aperitivo night we will host later this month. There were five of us, three Germans, one Italian and me as the American contingent, each with different recipes and ideas, but all with big appetites and curiosity for what the others had in mind. We chopped, we bickered, we searched for lemons, we bickered some more. But at the end of a frantic hour and a half, we were left with an incongruous, though lovely mélange of dishes, including a roasted beet salad, meatballs with caper sauce, zucchini torta salata, a pumpkin “bomb” fondue, and sweet potato tortilla española. I’m not sure if we succeeded 100% with our recipe “tests” but as five cooks in the kitchen, we proved that old proverb wrong; we definitely did not spoil the broth.

Recipe

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon of olive oil

3 medium or 2 very large sweet potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced into ¼-inch pieces

2 medium yellow onions, chopped

8 large eggs

1 tablespoon coarse salt

salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Heat olive oil in a 10-inch (or thereabouts) nonstick skillet with straight sides over medium low heat and add onions. Cook onions until partially softened, about 4 minutes, then add sweet potatoes and half of the salt. (Here, if you see that the potatoes need more oil, go ahead and add it- this is no time to be stingy…) Cover and cook vegetables on medium to medium-low heat until tender, up to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat 8 eggs in a large bowl and add the rest of the salt, plus black pepper to taste. Remove vegetables from skillet and allow to sit in a bowl or plate for a couple of minutes. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil into the now empty skillet, coating the bottom. Carefully add the vegetables in to the beaten eggs and stir gently. Pour mixture back into the skillet and press potatoes down slightly so that they are flush with the liquid. Cover and cook over low heat for 12-15 minutes. When it appears that the mixture has set, run a spatula along the edges of the skillet to loosen the tortilla. You can also try to shake the skillet a bit. The key is just to make sure the tortilla is not sticking to the bottom or sides of the skillet.

Now for the fun part. Place a large flat plate or platter over the top of the skillet and invert, flipping the tortilla over and out of the skillet. Now slide the inverted tortilla back into the skillet and continue to cook over low heat, uncovered for another 8-10 minutes. When finished and set, slide the tortilla onto a flat serving plate. Serve immediately hot or at room temperature.

*Note: Tortilla española is also wonderful the next day, cold or re-heated. Often in Spain it is even eaten as leftovers in a sandwich. Just slice a fresh, crispy baguette lengthwise and place slices of tortilla inside. Wow, it really doesn’t get much better than that.

tortilla española with sweet potatoes

 

a dinner for five, thrown together with delicious results

Convivialistisch Berlin

I just moved back to Berlin. Wait. I just moved back to BERLIN! Better… I JUST MOVED BACK TO BERLIN! Ok, maybe just a bit too enthusiastic.

I originally came to this vibrant village just over one year ago. Before that, I lived for about six years in Brooklyn, New York, which summoned me back Stateside for the last four months. But now. Now I have finally returned to the capital city of Germany, which in all fairness is much, much more than a village. Not only is it quite varied in its offerings, particular cultural ones, it also retains a certain joie de vivre that my other home city sometimes lacks. There is a sense of it being still unfinished and ever-emerging, perhaps in part due to the fact that only 22 years ago this place we now call Berlin was truly two cities, two cultures, two worlds entirely. There surely have been tomes written on this subject, so I won’t dwell on my outsider observations. I only venture to say that to many people visiting or newly living in Berlin as a citizen of another country, there is a something in the air that… enchants.

But let’s talk about the food.

I ostensibly moved to Berlin to work on my artwork full-time— to finally, truly, be an Artist. But a New York artist in Berlin, well, how’s that for a stereotype? I ended up finding that, while making art does play an enormous role in my life, another of my interests continually knaws away at me, typically manifested in the lateral hypothalamic area of the brain. For anyone who knows something about the neurological system, that is precisely the region in the human brain that regulates hunger and thirst. So, yes, I enjoy food. I like buying food, cooking food and eating food. Most of all, though, I enjoy sharing food with other people. (Well, except for that sweet, perfectly ripened fig, a warm pain au chocolat, or an early autumn Maine lobster— just no need to share those things…)

Berlin has afforded me many opportunities to share meals with wonderful people. This was a revelation for me, coming from New York. Why? Well, here apartments are BIG! One can actually invite friends over without forcing them to sit on the corner of a bed while dining, or needing to wash the dishes in the bathtub because the kitchen is just too small. Secondly, the international community here often works in the creative sector, i.e., they don’t make much money. Many people in Berlin simply cannot afford to go out to costly restaurants every night. Instead, they invite each other to their homes to cook together. The values are different. Lastly, I feel the restaurant culture is less important in Berlin (and perhaps all of Germany) than it is in New York. New Yorkers are absolute restaurant fanatics. You can find the best of anything you could possibly ever want! Top-rated dim-sum at 4am, why not? Raw organic chocolate ice-cream, no problem, what neighborhood are you in? The most tasty pizza on this side of Naples? Sure, we’ve got it, but you had better be willing to wait two hours for a table. The food and restaurant culture in New York is frenetic and competitive, and we LOVE it. Until, that is, we don’t anymore… What ever happened to the spontaneous dinner with friends or neighbors? No, I don’t mean dinner party, only cooking something simple and delicious for other people on a Tuesday night. I was frustrated with that part of New York— little community around eating and lots of big checks at the end of the night where you always end up throwing in extra for the guy at the table who “forgot” he ordered two extra after-dinner drinks.

So! You can imagine the thrill a few months after being in Berlin when I began to see food culture in a whole new and wholesome light. My mission for this blog is to present the delicious discoveries that can only come from cooking and eating alongside other people. And in Berlin, those other people come from a diversity of countries, cultures and backgrounds. I will cook with friends who will prepare something uniquely THEIRS, something they know and take pride in sharing, and then post recipes and photos for you to peruse. This is not to say I will never tell you about something great I ate at a restaurant. There are certainly many worthy examples. But mostly the blog will be about cooking and sharing food in the home. I’ll no doubt throw in some of my own experiments and food-based research, as well. I hope you will enjoy! I am looking forward to it.