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Time for Tortillas

Along with paella and gazpacho, the Spanish tortilla is an icon of Iberian cooking. Called tortilla de patatas or tortilla espanola, it is ubiquitous in bars, restaurants and at home.

Spanish homes are never without tortillas. They are consumed for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as snacks and late-night nibbles (and in Spain, that means late).

So quickly are they devoured that tortillas are often left out, unrefrigerated, on the dining room table, in the way French families store cheese in a cupboard or not at all.

And no self-respecting tapas bar is without tortillas. The humble egg and potato dish is sliced into cubes, skewered with toothpicks and set out on long wooden stand-up bars in all regions of the country. With a glass of bracing red wine, it's hard to beat.

Curiously, this easy-to-make potato and egg omelet has never caught on in the United States as have paella and gazpacho. With the tapas craze in New York and other cities a few years ago and the more recent fad for all foods Spanish, flashy young chefs turn out all sorts of authentic delicacies -- grilled octopus, spicy mussels, fresh sardines, croquetas (little fried ball holding a variety of ingredients -- yet few tortillas. Perhaps they're considered too plebian.

Not to me. To find a frame of reference before setting down my own recipe, I consulted two new commendable Spanish cookbooks: The Cuisines of Spain: Exploring Regional Home Cooking by Teresa Barrenechea (Ten Speed Press, $40), and The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen (Workman $22.95).

The former is a big, color-saturated hardcover that is long on Spanish history and culture (more than 50 pages before you start cooking) and is replete with authentic regional dishes. The tortilla recipe is as simple as can be, with only four ingredients: olive oil, onion, potatoes and eggs.

The lively and upbeat New Spanish Table offers a recipe that is very similar except for the addition of chicken broth to the egg-potato mixture (I prefer it without). In my research, I came across tortillas in Italy and the United States that include cabbage, kale or parsley. I am sure that some of these are fine -- although, to my traditional sensibilities, it is like painting racing stripes on a Rolls Royce.

My recipe below is the classic one; my only embellishment is freshly ground black pepper.

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Bryan Miller