I’ll go to great lengths, particularly when I’m on the road with my family, to make food for the journey. It’s not tightness, it’s just being sensible. Food from petrol stations is crap, and eye-wateringly over-priced crap too. And it was exclusively over-priced crap until a few years ago when McDonalds and Greggs were allowed onto the precious turf of the UK’s motorway services. A welcome gesture I think. I know it’s rubbish, but it tastes good (it does taste good, it might not be good for you but it hits the savoury flavour nail on the head), and it doesn’t break the bank. And when there’s five of you and three of them are teenagers with seemingly bottomless stomaches, the noticeable difference is multiplied considerably. Here’s an example: At Easter we went to visit my aunt and uncle in west Wales, Philippa and John (I’ve mentioned Philippa before – she’s a huge culinary inspiration – look here). We were going to make food for the road but a last minute decision to leave really really early and avoid the holiday traffic meant that this was one of those occasions when we didn’t. So we stopped at services and had McDonald’s breakfasts (Nikki didn’t, she never does). The breakfasts cost about £3.50 each, and that was for a muffin with sausage egg and cheese, a hash brown, and a tea. Next to the McDonald’s concession, right next to it, was a crappy services ‘restaurant’ selling a Full English that was little more than a deconstructed version of what we were eating, with perhaps the addition of some watery mushrooms and some invasive baked beans (baked beans have no place in a Full English and spread all over the plate infecting the other components with their sugary vinegary orange suspension), and that cost £8.50. Oh and if you wanted a cup of tea that was another £2.50. That’s right. £2.50 for a paper cup with some hot water and a tea bag.
I seem to have strayed from the crux of this essay. The point I’m failing to concisely make is that when we do think ahead I like to take something with us to eat on the way. It’s much nicer.
Last summer when we drove in the van to my friend Ian Moore’s house (where we stayed for a week looking after his veritable menagerie)* we took with us some seriously good grub – a tray of homemade baklava for the boat (recipe here), cheese, bread, fruit, and even a huge hunk of home-cured, home-smoked and finally home-steamed pastrami (picture here). We know how to do it well I can assure you.
In 2013 we drove from Brighton down through France, over the Pyrenees, past Barcelona and down the east coast of Spain to Javea (Xabia) where we all spent a week in a beautiful villa, and then after a week there together all nine of us drove back, this time cutting diagonally across Spain and up the west coast of France. The drive on the day we left was long. We thought it’d be better to really ‘break the back’ of the journey so as to make the later legs a bit less of a chore, so we did 440 miles that first day. And wow, what a drive – starting in the dusty yellow terrain where we’d been for the last week with birds of prey circling above in the giant sky, olive groves and a flat sea to our right. But as we got closer to the mountains and the Atlantic the landscape began to change – lush green, alpine almost, with chalets and towns with steep inclines.
We’d decided that not only to save money, but also to hasten our journey and discourage long stops, we would cook for the road, so the night before Matt and I made two giant tortillas, which we then wrapped in foil and chilled in the fridge. We stopped the next day to eat them, choosing at random a tiny village just off the main road at a rough half-way point. We nicknamed it ‘Crazy Town’ as it felt like something out of a spaghetti western, dusty streets, nobody about. But as we were unloading the food from the van two little old ladies came over to us, waddling along holding hands. They spoke to us in Spanish and uselessly English we answered them in what I can only imagine was the most incomprehensible nonsense. After a few more questions from them which we couldn’t answer as we had no idea what they were talking about, they shrugged their shoulders and walked away.
Reminded of the delicious lunch from that trip I decided to make a couple of tortillas a few days ago when the sun was shining and it felt like the right sort of food to be eating on such a nice day. And here’s how I did them. Actually I’d ordinarily slice the potato really finely and not par-boil it as I do below, but the method below is the method Matt and I used in Spain, and so I felt like doing it the same way.
Spanish Tortillas – Two Types
(for the basic tortilla recipe, and this is the quantities for one tortilla about 9 inches wide)
2 onions (sliced finely)
4-5 new potatoes (peeled and cut into 4mm slices)
2-3 cloves garlic (sliced)
4-6 eggs (depending on size – it doesn’t really matter)
For the Ham, Chilli and Rosemary one (top photo)
A handful of ham, whatever you can get, or you could use chorizo (roughly chopped)
1 red chilli
A lump of Red Leicester cheese (grated)
For the Broad Bean and Goat’s Cheese one (bottom photo)
A cup of broad beans (I used frozen, boiling water poured on to defrost, then drained and popped out of their skins)
A lump of good goats cheese
Fresh mint (chopped)
Sweat the onions in plenty of olive oil over a low heat until they’re soft and translucent, but don’t let them brown (add a pinch of salt to help draw out the water). And while that’s happening, boil the potatoes in salted water until they’re just starting to feel like they might be done soon, but not quite. Then drain them.
After 10 mins or so add the garlic to the onions and some black pepper and rosemary. Then tip the contents into a bowl with the potatoes.
Beat the eggs together and fold them into the potato and onion mix. That’s the basic plain tortilla mix ready for frying. For the Ham and chilli one I fried off the ham a bit and folded that in too. And for the broad bean one I just added the beans and I think a pinch of mint then (adding more fresh afterwards).
To make the tortilla bring the pan back up to hot and add a bit more oil (you’ll want a really good non-stick or well-seasoned pan for this by the way) and then pour in the mixture, even it out (so it’s not too wet on one side and too potato-heavy at the other) and then immediately drop the heat to super-low. Put a lid on top and leave it for about 12-14 minutes, checking every now and then. You want it to be starting to set but still a bit wobbly on top in the middle. When it gets to this stage you’ll need to flip it, so I put a board over the top and turn it upside down onto that, then I put a lid on the cooked side and flip it again onto the lid, and then after adding a tiny bit more oil to the pan I invert the pan over the uncooked side of the tortilla and flip the whole assembly back over so the omelette is now the other way round.
It then goes back on the heat just for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle with the cheese if it’s grated, or arrange the slices of goat’s cheese randomly, and stick into the oven for about 3-4 mins.
I think tortilla is much nicer cold, and garnished generously with parsley, crushed chilli, a trickle of olive oil and a little too much coarse and crunchy salt. Perhaps with a glass of sherry to be extra Spanish.
*By-the-way, Ian Moore is a very interesting man. Not only is he a hugely successful and very funny stand-up comedian but he’s also a prolific writer of both an extremely enjoyable blog and a couple of well-respected books. Both the blog and his books centre around his exceptional life-style as a very British ‘mod’ and travelling comic who happens to live in rural France with his half-French wife, their three boys and, well, a small farm with a constantly changing roster of cats, dogs, chickens, goats and horses. Seek him out, here.