During my senior year of college I spent a semester in Spain. I lived in a large piso (a flat) in the heart of Madrid. There were six of us, all women—three American students and three Madrileñas, all from very different backgrounds. My priorities back then were quite different than they are now. I was determined to see as much of Spain as possible in my 5-month stint. But funds were seriously tight, and food became a lower priority than train tickets or a stay in a pension.
But great food can be had in Spain for the price of a beer, and I often found myself eating in bars, even for breakfast (tapas are a great thing, and you quickly learn who serves the yummy stuff). On the few nights that I stayed in, my meals would often revolve around some permutation of eggs and potatoes. Occasionally I would eat a bit of chicken with a squeeze of lemon. And if I got really crazy, I’d sprinkle Parmesan on top—a true luxury.
One evening I decided to teach my two American roommates how to make a Spanish tortilla (one of my top egg-and-potato standards, and one of my ultimate comfort foods). If you’ve never had it, a Spanish tortilla is nothing like a Mexican tortilla, but more like a frittata. Made from only a handful of ingredients—eggs, potatoes, olive oil, and salt—it is not only very cheap to make, but you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry already. I would consider it the national dish of Spain, and you can find it in various forms throughout the country.
I’d been making tortilla for a while by the time I lived in Madrid, and it had already become a staple in the college-budget repertoire (I first learned to make an authentic tortilla prior to living in Spain from my college roommate Shannon who lived in Madrid for many years).