When I was sixteen I sailed from Southampton to Bilbao to spend the Easter school holidays with a Spanish family. I had been studying Spanish several times a week for six months, but most of it was stuck somewhere at the back of my head.
The Zubia family of five lived in an apartment in Bilbao. Nobody spoke a word of English, so I had to speak Spanish to survive. Needless to say, when I returned to the UK three weeks later I had made enormous progress and have never looked back. A month of language immersion in your teens is worth a year when you’re of a more mature age.
I was intrigued by a household which bought olive oil in 4 litre cans and used it to cook absolutely everything. My mother kept a very small bottle in the medicine cabinet and used it to treat earache.
Señora Zubia taught me to make several dishes, including Spanish omelette, which I still make according to her recipe below.
Bars in Spain serve a wide selection of tapas, mostly at room temperature and displayed along the top of the bar. When something takes your fancy you just point and the barman brings you as many servings as required for your group. On leaving patrons tell the barman what they’ve had and he adds up the bill. It’s all done on honesty.
Spanish omelette is usually served at room temperature, but have it hot if you prefer.
1 large onion
4 large potatoes or 6 medium
Salt and pepper
Roasted red capsicums (peppers) and aioli (optional)
Peel and chop onion as finely as possible. Heat a good slug of olive oil in a medium-sized non-stick frying pan, add onion and cook gently until soft. Meanwhile peel potatoes and cut into 2cm dice. Remove onions from the pan, add more oil if necessary (there should be a generous amount), add potatoes and cook gently, turning often, until they are cooked through but not browned. Remove potatoes from the pan and put with the onions in a sieve, so excess oil drains off.
Tip off all but 2-3 Tbs of oil. If there’s not enough oil left in the pan add some that has drained from the potatoes and onion. Place eggs in a bowl and beat with a fork. Season with salt and pepper, then mix in the potatoes and onions. Tip mixture into frying pan and spread out evenly. Cook for 8-10 minutes over moderate heat, or until set and underneath is golden. Check by lifting slightly with a spatula. Run spatula around the edge to make sure the omelette hasn’t stuck to the pan.
Place a large dinner plate over the frying pan and quickly invert so you end up with the omelette on the plate, cooked side up. Carefully slide back into the frying pan and cook the other side, which will take about 5 minutes. Serve at room temperature with roasted red peppers and aioli – for which there are plenty of recipes online, or just add some crushed garlic to mayonnaise, for a quick version. Cut into 3-4 cm squares Spanish Omelette makes great finger food, or tapas, to use the Spanish word.