SECRETS IN PRESERVE

The IoS has been given unique access to the private papers of Elizabeth David, and here we present two of her recipes that have never been published before
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The Independent Culture
TORTILLA Spanish omelette

A Spanish tortilla is a thick, flat omelette, consisting only of eggs, potatoes and seasonings. It is cooked in olive oil, should be compact and have almost the appearance of a cake, can be eaten hot or cold, and makes a splendid picnic dish, especially for a car journey. A big tortilla will keep moist for three days.

The following recipe, in note form, is exactly as I wrote it down while watching Juanita, the village girl who once cooked for Anthony Denney in his house in the province of Alicante. The notes seem to me to convey the eessential points about making a tortilla more vividly than would a conventional recipe, and I have used them often without in any way altering the method, except to cook the potatoes rather more gently than Juanita did - she was never a patient girl.

Serves 4-6

about 1lb/450g of potatoes for 4 eggs

potatoes all cut up small, soaked in plenty of water (like for gratin Dauphinois)

Cooked in olive oil (she lets it smoke) in shallow earthenware dish directly on Butagaz. Tiny piece of garlic. Stirred fairly often, and pressed with flat iron spatula-spoon. Salt. In the end the potatoes are almost in a cohered mass. If any pieces too big she cuts them as they cook with her iron implement.

She beats the eggs in a bowl, dips in the potatoes (slightly cooled; they have been transferred to a bowl) and mixes them well.

The tortilla is cooked in an iron omelette pan with smoking oil. It puffs up. She holds a deep plate in her left hand and turns the tortilla into it. Then back into the pan. And process repeated (sometimes twice, it depends if she is satisfied with its appearance).

Notes: as a tortilla is a very filling dish, I find that half Juanita's quantities, ie approximately 12lb/225g of potatoes and two eggs makes enough for two or three people. It is, of course, easier to handle in this smaller form, for which I use an iron pan of 20cm diameter, measured at the top. For a four-egg tortilla use a 22cm or 24cm pan.

For the initial cooking of the potatoes I still use a Spanish earthenware dish over direct heat, as did Juanita (it is a delicious way of cooking potatoes, and need not necessarily be reserved for the tortilla), although an ordinary frying pan serves perfectly well.

About the spatula spoon: this is a charctertistic Spanish kitchen implement, a round, flat pusher, as it were, with a long handle, used mainly when the paella is cooking, and just right for moving the rice and other ingredients around in the pan. I use a thin, wooden spatula or palette knife instead.

Really fresh eggs are necessary for a tortilla. Stale ones don't puff up, and so produce a flat omelette.

QUINCE AND HONEY SORBET

This is quite a trouble to make, but worth it to addicts of the strange flavour and wonderful perfume of quinces.

First bake six fine, ripe unpeeled quinces in a covered pot in a low oven until they are soft. Add no water. This preliminary cooking will take about one hour to one hour and a half.

Peel, slice and core the fruit, putting the parings and cores into a saucepan but discarding any bruised or damaged parts of the fruit.

Cover the cores and peel with cold water - about 1.2 litres (2 pints). Boil hard for a few minutes, until the water is well-flavoured and coloured with the quince parings. Strain through a fine sieve into a large bowl or jug. Return this quince water - there will be 750ml (114 pints) - to the saucepan. Add the sliced fruit - there should be approximately 1lb/450g - and let it boil for about 10 minutes until quite soft. Now add eight tablespoons of honey and boil until the juice has turned to a light syrup which just drops from the spoon.

Puree the whole mixture in the blender and chill in refrigerator. Immediately before freezing give the puree another quick whirl in the blender adding a good 300ml (12 pint) of whipping or double cream.

The quantities given will yield about 1.2 litres (2 pints) of mixture, too much for freezing all at once in a small-scale sorbetiere, but since it is hardly worth cooking fewer than six quinces at a time, the best course is to divide the prepared puree into two parts, adding cream only to the amount to be frozen. The rest of the puree will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. Again, add the cream only immediately before freezing.

Note: Instead of double cream try using buttermilk, or half and half fresh home-made yogurt and cream. The flavour of quince is powerful enough to stand up to the acidity of buttermilk and yoghurt.

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