During the forty days of Lent, we never expect ham, bacon, sausages, tocino, tapa, and chicken nuggets to put in an appearance on Friday mornings at our house, much as some of us do crave them. Instead, we are served fish prepared in myriad forms: sardinas guisado, tuna-fish frittata, an assortment of dried and salted fish fried to a crisp and served with tomatoes. On Fridays when we aren’t in the mood for fruits de mer to show up on the table, we have a salad of salted eggs mixed with finely chopped onion and diced tomato or Chinese-style eggs scrambled with tomatoes and a bit of soy sauce.
And there’s tortang patatas – a Spanish-style frittata made with eggs and diced potatoes. Deceptive in its simplicity, it was immortalized by the late National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin in the March entry of his Almanac for Manilenos as one of those non-negotiable, utterly necessary dishes for the season of Lent. To Joaquin, tortang patatas is in the same league as ginataang kalabasa (kabocha squash cooked with onions and a bit of dried fish in coconut milk) and amargoso con huevos (ampalaya – bitter gourd – sauteed with onion, garlic, and tomatoes, then scrambled with a few eggs) as one of his all-time favorite vegetable dishes.
The dish is actually a thinner version of tortilla de patatas, a classic Spanish dish that is popular throughout that part of the world. In Spain, these frittatas are usually three to four inches thick and are served cold or at room temperature as either a vegetarian main (one of many viands for a typical Spanish lunch or dinner), part of a selection of tapas as pincho de tortilla (a small cube of frittata speared on a toothpick or oyster fork), or a sandwich filling when tucked into a crusty bun or mini-loaf (bocadito de las patatas).
In the Philippines, however, these are best served hot off the pan with generous dabs of tomato ketchup or a dot or two of Tabasco. At our house, we even add an extra shot of flavor via the addition of grated Edam cheese to the beaten eggs. Throw in some hot buttered toast or a steaming plate of rice and you’re set for an excellent meatless meal.
Torta con Patatas y Queso
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons grated Edam cheese (Parmesan and Pecorino would work as well)
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced small
- salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons oil or butter for shallow frying
Whisk the cheese into the beaten eggs. Set aside.
Heat one tablespoon of the oil or butter in a pan. Saute the onion until tender and translucent. Add the potatoes and cook, whilst stirring, until brown and rather crisp at the corners. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the cooked veg from the pan; set aside.
Add the remaining oil or butter to the pan. Return the cooked veg and spread evenly over the surface. Pour the egg-cheese mixture evenly over the vegetables. Cook until the edges are brown and crisp and the sides are slightly set. Slide onto a plate and flip onto the uncooked side. Cook until the bottom has browned. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Incidentally, don’t make the mistake of serving this with banana ketchup as some Filipino households are wont to do. Trust me: it’s a flavor combo that doesn’t work.