By the time you read this the July 4th holiday will be over. But the smell around here from fireworks, lighter fluid and charred flesh from wannabe grillers still fogs the air. Independence from under the English thumb will have been celebrated with beer, burgers, hot dogs and fireworks galore. When the sun goes down on the great day, our neighborhood becomes a war zone — an exaggeration, no doubt, in light of what some people in the world are going through — but the blasts are sudden and furious. Some are louder than gunfire, the reverb drives our dog to the safe places behind the couch, under the table and in the closet.
Couple of years back, a house half a mile from here had its roof burned off from a direct hit from a misguided rocket. Supposedly, It’s illegal to set off a firework in Denver, but you can buy them in Adams county — which is just down the road — the small ones anyway, like ground spinners, Catherine wheels, sparklers and glow worms. But that’s just small potatoes.
For the outlawed big guns you slip across the border into Wyoming, a little more than an hour north, where anything goes. You can buy mortars, surface to air rockets and all kinds of artillery style incendiary devices designed to entertain, and sometimes maim. For the pyromaniac with cash in hand, Wyoming’s a heavenly place. Smuggling the contraband back to Colorado is a cinch. There’s no border patrol.
Denver always puts on an impressive fireworks show for the 4th, but it’s the backstreet boys, setting off their raucous rockets in the middle of our block, who really demonstrate the essence of the defiant American spirit. Calling the cops is a joke. Many do, especially the new, young Anglo arrivals to the neighborhood, but the cops never show. They turn a blind eye for independence day.
One year we hosed down the house as a precaution, but this year we threw caution to the wind, hoping for none, and decided to get out of town; go somewhere far to a place with little or no people and celebrate, not just ours, but global independence and revolution in general — by eating a small selection of our favorites.
For the French revolution, we chose chicken liver pâté and a lentil salad.
For the Irish fighters of 1916, a jar of oatcakes with Kerrygold butter. For the Americans who routed the Redcoats and sent them running, a coleslaw made from freshly plucked cabbage, and a pot of beans.
And as a nod to the Spanish freedom fighters of the civil war of 1936 — a Spanish tortilla.
Traditionally, it’s a simple, sparse, poor person’s pie of potato chipped into little pieces, fried in lots of olive oil, then mixed with whisked egg, poured into a skillet, cooked on the stove top and flipped over into another pan to cook the other side. It’s eaten throughout Spain, served at room temperature in almost every bar. Sometimes, when I lived there, onion and green pepper were added, but rarely; for the most part, tortilla was about the elemental trio of potato, egg and olive oil, with little room for variation. Although, I hear things have changed.
My experience living in Spain taught me that the easiest way to make a tortilla was while drunk. It helps to be a little over-confident when the time comes to flip it over. And there was never a need to discuss ingredients. A group of us would get home late at night buzzed and famished. Opening the fridge always revealed the same things no matter whose place you were in: eggs and potatoes. Pairing knives and peelers appeared, a bottle would be opened and everybody would chip away at the potatoes around a big bowl. Tortilla was always a group effort and it would take just minutes to get ready. And whoever was deemed the most sozzled was the chosen one to flip the tortilla. For the most part the arrangement worked.
For this tortilla — in true American style, I veered from the norm. I added chives and a sprinkle of dried green chile flakes, and instead of regular potatoes, I used South American purple ones. You could say this was in deference to Evo Moralas, the great Bolivian leader, but the coincidence was purely accidental.
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, russets, Yukon golds, purple, or what have you
1 cup olive oil
A sprinkle of green chile flakes(optional)
1 tablespoon of chopped chives (optional)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Chop, chip or slice the potatoes into little pieces. Warm the olive oil in a heavy high-sided skillet and slide in the potatoes. Fry them at medium heat stirring regularly until done, about twenty minutes. Some will most likely stick to the bottom. Scrape them off with a spatula and work the smudge into the mix.
Transfer to a colander sitting on a bowl and let the oil drain out. Save it for something else. I make aioli with it. Clean the skillet thoroughly.
While the potatoes are cooking crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk. Add the chives, chiles, cooked potatoes, salt, and stir.
Coat the skillet with olive oil, heat it and pour in the egg/potato mixture, turn the heat to low and cook for 7 minutes. It will start to firm up around the sides. The middle will be a loose mess.
Heat another similar sized skillet with olive oil and swirl it around the edges coating the sides.
Place this skillet bottom side up on top of the skillet containing the tortilla. Grab two towels. Place one towel on top of the empty skillet and grab the skillet holding the tortilla by the handle with the other towel.
Now quickly flip the tortilla over onto the empty skillet. Cook the flipped side for 7 minutes. Lay a plate on top and flip it over onto the plate. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before eating. Eat it as is or with aioli, harissa, romesco sauce or olive oil drizzled on top.