Spain part 2: Basque Country + A Spanish Tortilla

Welcome to Spain part 2! After exploring Barcelona by foot and bike for a few days, we rented a car and headed west toward wine and Basque Country. Our first stop was Logrono where we got our first taste of real Spanish (or Basque) tapas called pintxos. We sampled them according to tradition - hopping from bar to bar (each bar is known for its special pintxos) and with copious amounts of red wine. If you aren't familiar with pintxos, they're basically little bites of food skewered on top of crusty baguette slices with a toothpick. Bars display plates loaded with a wide variety of colorful pintxos on their countertops and patrons choose the ones that they want. You pay for the toothpicks later. The great thing about pintxos is that wine is basically free. Seriously! Single pintxos cost anywhere between 2-6 euros and you usually get a half glass of wine with that :) Truthfully, though, Noah and I were a bit disappointed with our pintxos experience in Logrono. There were only a few amazing standouts - freshly grilled fish and turkey and buttery mushrooms with a tiny shrimp on top. The rest of the pintxos were ok, but that was probably because they sat out on countertops for hours to accommodate the tourists who eat between 5-7pm and the locals who eat any time after 9pm. Definitely go for the pintxos that are grilled or sautéed to order! Another pintxo peculiarity that dismayed us was that after ordering, the pintxos get zapped in a microwave. We'd point to a tasty looking one that had beautiful ribbons of Iberico ham on top and before we could say "no microwave" into the microwave it went for 60 long seconds. The ham (or whatever else was on top) would come out sad looking and defeated. Sigh. Again, go for the pintxos that are fresh. 

After Logrono, we made a pit stop in the medieval defense-turned-wine town of Laguardia. No cars are allowed in the walled area, so we spent the rainy, chilly afternoon walking the narrow stone streets and ducking into little bodegas for snacks and wine. A bodega is basically a wine cellar that serves pintxos and local - often made-in-house - wine. Underneath Laguardia is a honeycomb of wine cellars and we decided to visit the caves of Carlos San Pedro Perez de Vinaspre for a wine tour. Unfortunately, the next tour wasn't in English, but it was really cool to see the musty, moldy old cellar where their wine is made and aged. Coming from a country where almost everything food-related is sterile and stainless steel, it was striking to see the balls of mold on the walls and bottles caked in grime. These people know the benefits of good bacteria! 

After leaving Laguardia, we headed north to the heart of beautiful Basque country. We passed epic landscapes of vibrant green hills, abandoned stone villages, and densely wooded forests. Basque country is easily one of the prettiest places I've visited yet and that's just from seeing it during early spring. We'd love to go back in summer! Our stop for the next three nights was in a tiny, tiny town called Elortza. We had booked an airbnb there mainly because the host has two donkeys and I have a huge soft spot the furry beasts. This stop turned out to be one of our favorite highlights from the trip. Phil - our host - took us on a day hike with the donkeys (Momo and Django) into the surrounding hills and we explored the depths of a crystal-studded limestone cave. Amazing! Hiking with donkeys is not a rushed affair, so we took our time and enjoyed the fresh air and Basque countryside. The recipe inspired by this leg of our trip is a Spanish tortilla that Momo made every effort to eat when we stopped for lunch atop a steep bluff overlooking the valley. Who knew donkeys liked eggs and potatoes?! 

The last leg of our journey through Basque country was along the northern Bay of Biscay coast from Elantxobe - a tiny fishing town built into steep coastal hills that slide into the ocean - to Zarautz, one of our favorite towns that we visited in Spain. The road between the two towns is rugged and beautiful, dotted with small villages with names like Ea and Lekeitio. Zarautz is a mid-size town right on the coast with a great, laid back feel and a gigantic sandy beach. We didn't spend much time in the popular San Sebastion, but I got the feeling that Zarautz was sort of like its lesser known cousin with amazing boutique shops and great restaurants. Our airbnb host sent us on a great walk from the town center of Zarautz along backroads to the neighboring town of Getaria. We passed an abandoned and graffitied coliseum that definitely looked out of place amid the vineyards and sheep pastures, but would be a perfect venue for a music or skateboarding video. I practiced my handstands. In Getaria, we spent a few hours walking around, had a fantastic lunch, then walked back along the coastal footpath to Zarautz, taking some time to sit on the rocks and watch the ocean splash at our feet 

Next up: Southern France and a decadent breakfast


// Spanish Tortilla // serves 6-8
A Spanish tortilla isn't what you normally think of when you hear 'tortilla'. Most people think of Latin American tortillas made out of flour or corn and food like quesadillas, tacos, fajitas, etc... But a Spanish tortilla has neither flour or corn - it's made almost entirely of potatoes, eggs, onion, and olive oil. It's kind of like a frittata, but better. A note about the olive oil: this recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of olive oil. Don't freak out, you don't actually consume all that oil, it's just used to fry the potatoes and onions and the rest is saved for another use (like salad dressings). I added kale to this recipe because I'm a greens fanatic, but feel free to leave it out for a more traditional version. Oh, and watch out for donkeys - they like Spanish tortillas.

1 1/2 cups olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, about 1 1/2 cups sliced
2 pounds yukon gold or russet potatoes
2 1/4 teaspoons salt (2 teaspoons if you're sensitive to salt)
8 eggs
1/2 cup packed parsley, chopped
6 large lacinato kale leaves, roughly chopped (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Gently heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed deep frying pan or skillet. When the oil is shimmering, add the onion slices and cook for 8-10 minutes or until they're translucent, but not super soft. Stir often

2. While the onions are cooking, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/4" thick rounds. Add the potatoes and salt to the onions and oil. Try to submerge the potatoes as best you can under the oil for even cooking. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes over low heat, checking on the potatoes every so often to make sure they're all cooking evenly (i.e. stir and flip as needed). The potatoes are done when they can be easily pierced with a  fork or knife. With a slotted spoon, transfer onions and potatoes into a colander placed over a bowl to catch the extra oil. Pour out remaining oil from pan and save for another use

3. Crack eggs into a large bowl and whisk until well combined. Whisk in most of the parsley and all of the kale if using (reserve some parsley for garnish). Add 3 tablespoons of oil back into the frying pan and turn heat on low. Layer onions and potatoes in the skillet, flattening them out as best you can. Pour eggs over onions and potatoes and cook for about 15 minutes over medium-low heat. Gently pull away the sides of the tortilla from the pan with a spatula to allow eggs to run over the side and cook. When eggs are mostly done, place tortilla in oven to finish cooking for 3-5 minutes. Turn oven on to broil and broil top for 1-2 minutes. Remove tortilla from oven, let cool 5 minutes then either flip tortilla upside down onto a plate or slide it out of the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature