FOOD

Food for Thought

A tortilla, by any other name ...

I’m gonna make a tortilla.

And it won’t be what most of you expect.

I won’t be using masa. Nor will I produce a relatively round piece of flatbread made of white flour, lard, etc.

I’m not walking turf here that is familiar to most of us born and bred in Tortillaville, here in the Great Southwest, a place where natives, regardless of roots, quickly learn about and cultivate affection for the tortilla as it is known in Mexican cuisine.

I have to go way back in my personal history to find a time I didn’t know about, and eat, these typical corn and flour tortillas (though never whole-wheat tortillas — there’s something inauthentic about them, something alien and creepy). I had friends whose families enjoyed tortillas as staple elements in the diet. I ate enchiladas from the time I can remember. I learned to make tortillas, corn and flour, when I took control of my own kitchen — and that was quite a long time ago. I snarfed tortillas fresh off the griddle any chance I got. When I was but a lad, I frequented a joint called the Taco House, on South Broadway in Denver, and a bevy of dives on Larimer and Curtis streets, journeying there with my pals, Mark and Chas, on the No. 8 bus, our meager little-guy allowances soon to be spent on bowls of green with tortillas, burritos, chalupas. Over the years, I regularly ate at places with names like Tacqueria Patzcuaro, Lolito’s, El Taco de Mexico, Las Delicias. I bought tortillas several times a week, still warm, from a bakery called La Favorita — located in a tiny storefront on West 38th in Denver — a business now grown into an industrial big boy.

Ahh. But those were the tortillas most of us know, or should know, in this part of the world.

I’m makin’ another kind of tortilla, now — Spanish style. Sometimes it’s called a “tortilla de patatas,” the name making clear one of its main ingredients. Other times, it’s just “tortilla.”

The great landfill of egg dishes.

This is why I like it. Kin to the omelet and frittata, the tortilla can act as a vehicle for a wide variety of ingredients. There is a basic template. From that point on, it’s an open-ended game.

And, it’s quick and relatively easy dish to make — the perfect working guy’s, or gal’s, solution to the old I’m-beat-there’s-not-a-lot-in-the-fridge-I’m-starving-and-I-need-something-tasty-and-fast-for-dinner-or-I-am-going-to-kick-the-dog problem.

A weekday treat. A treat for a weekend dinner with friends. Good for breakfast, as well.

What do you need?

Well, eggs. For two diners, at least seven large eggs.

Cream or half-and-half — four or five tablespoons.

A couple lower-starch spuds. Red potatoes work just fine. Medium-small size.

A white onion.

Extra virgin olive oil and butter.

Herbs. Depending on what else is going into the tortilla, the choice will vary. Herbs de Provence work just peachy. Basil is nifty. Sometimes rosemary, or a little thyme, fills the bill.

Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Some chopped parsley and some cheese.

This is the foundation lineup.

Utensil-wise, many kitchen geeks will head in the direction of a nonstick pan. But, not me. Given that I don’t intend to add anything acidic to the mix — tomatoes or lemon in particular — and that I intend to use the broiler, there is nothing better than a seasoned, cast-iron skillet.

As a matter of fact, there is nothing better than a seasoned, cast-iron skillet for most stovetop work, sans acid. These brutes last a lifetime, properly cared for, and they accept and distribute heat as well or better than any other pan. If you don’t have one, get one. And when you get it, season it and keep it in trim (don’t wash with hot water and soap, never put in a dishwasher, merely wipe clean and, occasionally, apply a film of oil).

A stovetop burner and a broiler? If you got ’em, you are in business.

Step one: Take the eggs out of the fridge and bring them to room temp on the countertop, while you work the spuds.

With thin-skinned red or new potatoes, I find no need to peel the pesky things. Slice them into very thin rounds, then cut the rounds into quarter- to half-inch strips. Many recipes keep the rounds intact, but I prefer the way the strips brown.

Halve the onion and finely slice the halves.

Put the pan on medium-high heat. When the pan comes to temp, add a couple tablespoons olive oil and bring the oil to just below the smoke point. Toss in the potatoes and spread them evenly in the pan. Sprinkle them with some salt and leave them alone.

I repeat: Leave them alone.

Let the pan side of the spuds get golden brown before you disturb them. When you flip them, add a bit more salt. Give them a couple minutes, cooking them until they are soft then toss in the onion and continue cooking until the onions soften — but don’t brown the onions. Season with pepper and your herbs.

Now, here is where techniques diverge.

Some would have you remove the potatoes and onion, wipe the pan clean, reheat, add oil and butter, toss in the potatoes and move to the egg stage.

Not me. And this is due to the blessing of the cast-iron pan. No need to take out the veggies. Just add a couple tablespoons butter and, while it melts, taste the spuds and onion and adjust the seasonings. Throw some chopped parsley on top of the potatoes and mix it in.

Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the cream/half-and-half, a bit of salt and pepper, a bit of herb and beat. Don’t overwork; you don’t want to froth the eggs.

Turn the heat under the pan to medium low, crank on the broiler, put the oven rack near the top, pour the egg mix on top of the veggies in the pan.

Gently stir the egg and veggie mix with a fork and let it sit for a while, occasionally running the tines of the fork around the perimeter of the eggs as they set up and occasionally creating some openings in the tortilla to allow some of the runny egg access to the surface of the pan. Do this once or twice, then leave it alone

Leave it alone.

When the egg mix has obviously firmed up, with just a slick of runny egg left on top of the tortilla, pop the pan under the broiler. (This is yet another divergence in technique. Many tortilla cooks take a plate, place it atop the tortilla, invert the pan and flop the egg cake out on to the plate. They then put the egg cake back in the pan, flipping it so what was the top gets the pan-side treatment to the finish. Not me. I ride the broiler to the finish line.)

Monitor closely. When nothing is runny, take the pan out and sprinkle the surface of the tortilla with some shaved, hard, aged, salty cheese. High-grade Parmesan works just swell.

Put the pan back under the broiler for a minute or so and melt the cheese.

Let this mama rest for a sec, then slide it from the pan to a plate and cut it into wedges. Serve with torn Romaine lettuce dressed with halved and mashed cherry tomatoes mixed with some herbs (same as in the tortilla), finely diced white onion, some mashed garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. And some crusty bread with oodles of butter.

Above, I referred to this dish as a “landfill.”

And, that it is — a glorious dumping ground, open and responsive to a wide variety of things you might find hanging around the fridge.

Leftovers.

As in chopped bits of meats — anything, really.

As in leftover cooked veggies, as long as they are relatively firm, and not watery. The other night, I whipped up the basic dish and tossed in some leftover green beans.

Vary the type of cheese. Toss in some pitted, chopped kalamata olives. Bits of artichoke heart? Why not — as long as they are not marinated.

Pop the cork on some wine; nothing overwhelming, unless the meat of choice is a sausage (always a prime idea). Pound down a glass or so while you cook. You’ve got a half hour, at most.

Pound down another glass or so while you eat.

Savor, and enjoy this easiest of taste treats.

The tortilla.

Olé.

What's Cookin?

OBITUARIES

Rinaldo V. Taborelli

Rinaldo V. Taborelli, 96, of Rio Rancho, N.M., passed away after a brief illness on March 5, 2008. Tabby, as he was known to his many friends, was born Aug. 6, 1911, in West Hoboken, N.J.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and his daughters, Sylvia Taborelli and companion Clifford Miller, and Barbara Handal and husband Ron Baird; and granddaughters, Doralice Handal, and Alexis Handal and husband Kevin Ferrell.

Tabby received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1936 and a master’s degree in mining engineering in 1941 from Columbia University. He was then commissioned as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserves, and served until he was returned to inactive duty in 1960, retiring as Captain, USNR, in 1962. He was employed as the engineering chief at Lovelace Medical Center from 1956 until his retirement in 1980. After retirement, he and his wife served on the board of the Piedra Park District Water System in Arboles, Colo., the site of their summer home. He was a percussionist for the Albuquerque Concert Band and a volunteer for Meals on Wheels in Albuquerque.

He was preceded in death by his first wife, Helen, the mother of his children, in 1971.

Cremation has taken place and no services will be held. If friends desire, they may make memorial contributions to the charity of their choice. Arrangements by Daniels Family Funeral Services, 4310 Sara Road, SE, Rio Rancho, NM 87124, (505) 892-9920, www.danielsfuneral.com.



CELEBRATIONS

BIRTHS:

Emma Jasmine

Brielle and Scott Rubenstein are proud to announce the arrival of their first daughter, Emma Jasmine. Emma was born at Mercy Medical Center on Jan. 7, 2008, at 8 a.m. She weighed 6 pounds, 10.3 ounces and was 18 inches long.
Emma was welcomed home by her two big brothers, Holden and Gryffin, as well as numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. She is the great-granddaughter of Helen Duckworth of Picayune, Miss., granddaughter of Patricia and David Hauschild of Arboles, granddaughter of Guy and Joann Misuraca of Kenner, La., and granddaughter of Kathleen Rubenstein of Port Orange, Fla.

Ethel Poma

Ethel Poma is celebrating her 90th St. Patrick’s Day birthday this year. She will be front and center in the St. Patrick’s Day parade which starts at 4:30 p.m., Monday, March 17. Everyone is invited to celebrate with Ethel at the Catholic Parish Hall on Lewis Street with birthday cake, immediately following the parade, until about 6:30 p.m.
Ethel is known for her artistic talent and pecan pies, and has lived in Pagosa Springs approximately 65 years. She is the owner of the historic Poma Ranch in the Upper Piedra.


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