French Fridays with Dorie: Basque potato tortilla

Dorie Greenspan basque potato tortilla on eatlivetravelwrite.comI was so excited to see this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe – Basque potato tortilla – because it evoked fabulous memories of the summer of 2008, where we happened to be in Basque country and were fortuitous enough to be there during the famous fêtes de Bayonne – a series of festivals in the Basque town of Bayonne, France.  The fêtes start on the first Wednesday every August, last for five days, and are the largest of their kind in France. The town is all decked out in the regional colours of green and red.  During the 1980s, “participants” started to dress in white clothing with red scarves and belts (the colours of Pamplona).

The festival includes musical performances, drinking and eating, so right up our alley 😉

All sorts of festivities take place over the 5 day festival, including the Défilé des Géants (Parade of Giants):

There are also mini “running with the bulls” (Course des Vaches) which involves what appear to be a huge number of inebriated men gathering together in one of the town squares to try to tap the bull’s horn. They have a number of strategies to try to keep the bull running in the direction they want it to, including everyone laying down on the ground to make a corridor for the bull to run though. Not entirely surprisingly, the bulls are not interested in going where people want them to go and the whole spectacle is quite amusing… No prizes for guessing here who was a part of this. Ahem. Mr Neil.

As I said, our stay in Biarritz coincided with the Fêtes. Not fully understanding just how HUGE this event was, we Googled excitedly to discover that one of the days we had planned to head up the coast to Bayonne, there was to be “Le Championnat du Monde d’Omlette aux Piments.” Huh? A competition for the best omelette in the world with peppers (the famous piments doux from the Basque country). So what’s the big deal with these peppers then?

According to an article on Suite 101 (no longer available) the pepper has been grown in the village of Espelette (in the foothills of the Pyrenées Atlantiques) since the 1500s. By the late 1700s the pepper was heavily influencing the cuisine of the area. It has even been granted an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) by the French govermnent which means that to carry the name of Piment d’Espelette it must be grown within one of the 10 listed villages in the valley and left to sun dry for a least 15 days. (According to locals, though, 12 weeks is best.) The peppers are harvested from mid-August onwards and are hand picked and sorted and then threaded onto long strings and left to dry naturally in the sun. The pepper is used at any stage of the drying process in different ways – fresh in cooking, as a paste or dried as a powder.

All this and a world championship of omelettes too? What could be better?? Right then… What to wear when partaking in the Fêtes de Bayonne? Why red and white, of course. We thought this was some kind of joke, especially when we heard this announcement on the radio: “Come dress yourselves for the Fêtes at Casino Géant”… And there we were a couple of hours later, purchasing our “oufits” at the hypermarché:

It was very surreal wearing the red and white along with 50 000 of our new best friends, kind of like being in some kind of cult… But we did not look out of place…

The day of the Omelette Championship dawned bright and sunny.

The competitors were getting set up when we arrived.  We stood in the blazing sun and watched the progress.  They covered it in foil to help it cook!

We didn’t stick around for a tasting, however, headed out to one of the many surrounding restaurants, some of whom were competing in the competition also. We got a plate to share for four of us:

With the ubiquitous fries and jambon!

Once back in our lovely little rental property in Biarritz, we attempted to recreate the famous omelette aux piments with a bag of freshly purchased piments d’Esplette:

Not a bad rendition if I do say so myself!!! (ignore my pre-blogging flash photography!)

Later on we enjoyed some more refined fare by the sea-side in Biarritz… A Basque tortilla, in fact!

Basque cuisine, is very distinctive to its region but also heavily influenced by neighbouring Spain and “tapas” style meals are very common. We loved our stay in the Basque country and would totally recommend it to anyone. I would suggest if you are there during the fêtes, to perhaps stay outside Bayonne in one of the neighbouring seaside towns since it can get kinda crazy!

I had very fond memories of this trip and especially the food, so I was thrilled to try Dorie’s recipe.  Especially as it included powdered piment d’Espelette, which, of course, we still have some of (you know, when you buy your red and white outfits, it’s good to pick up some groceries at the same time, right?).

This was  a super easy recipe to make – you start with the potatoes on the stovetop, later adding the eggs to the potato mixture and then finishing it in the oven which created a gorgeous puffy cloud of eggy goodness!  I made a small and a large version of this and found better results in my smaller frying pan (about 8 inches in diameter) – it was easier to make sure the bottom did not burn as the eggs cooked through.

Dorie’s recipe is vegetarian, however, with some leftover duck prosciutto from last month’s Charcutepalooza, we couldn’t resist!


A wonderfully simply, flavourful and healthy meal that you could whip after work or for brunch on the weekend. With a green salad, it’s perfect 🙂

Want to join in the fun? Join French Fridays with Dorie here and follow along on Twitter.

French Fridays with Dorie participants do not publish the recipes on our blogs, rather, we prefer if you purchase the book for yourselves (trust me, you definitely want this book!) which you can do here on Amazon (great price right now) or here on Amazon Canada (it’s also on special!).  Go on, treat yourself join us in 2011!

(the information about our trip to Basque country originally appeared on the Cheapoair travel blog)

63 thoughts on “French Fridays with Dorie: Basque potato tortilla”

  1. I have never known anything about the Basque region. This post is so much fun. I love the risque float of the woman!! All this food looks amazing and I am digging you guys with “friends” in red and white. How fun!

  2. For Geoff, who reminds me to add wine pairings…

    This one begs for white. Something not too crisp. Beyond that, I think you’re wide open. Chardonnay (even leaning to New World – just not too buttery), Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc or Semillon.

    A fruity rose would also be an excellent match. (Save your Tavel for another day.)

    Moscato d’Asti would add some spritz and the off-dry sweetness would work really well if you’ve added some proscuitto. If not, a sparkler of any sort would be a treat – but don’t go too dry.

    If you must have a red…go lighter. Cabernet Franc would be my choice.

  3. Your looks beautiful – and if I had had some duck proscuitto on hand, I am certain I would not have found mine to be bland!! Love the context you gave the dish here.

  4. Mardi, what a great post. I felt like I was in Basque country with you. The picture of the guys lying on the ground to guide the bull is hysterical! I wanted to use my duck proscuitto in this also, but alas…it is still drying (almost two weeks into the process and it’s only lost about 15% of it’s weight). I don’t know if it’s going to make it or not. Do you or Mr. Neil have any tips???

    • Quick question – how much have you wrapped it in cheesecloth? If “over-wrapped”, it will form a much less porous shield for moisture to escape. Try unwrapping a bit, if that might be the cause.

      Also – do you have a hygrometer? What’s the ambient humidity level?

      • Mr. Neil,
        Thanks for your response! I’ve only got it wrapped twice, but I’ll unwrap it once to see if that helps. I’m hanging these beauties in my wine fridge, keeping the temp at 56 and the humidity is at 80. I’m thinking maybe I need to leave the door open for awhile and get the humidity to drop a bit? Thanks for your help. Do you know if they finally reach the right “dryness” will they still be ok to eat after hanging for a couple of weeks (I’m assuming so…but thought I’d ask).

        • Whoah – that’s the problem. Take them out of the wine fridge.

          The humidity is far too high – they CANNOT dry out, as there is too much moisture in the air. (In simple terms, it’s simply osmosis.)

          Hang them somewhere else…cellar, closet, curtain rod. In a few days, they should be fine.

          And remember they are aslready cured – so yes, they’ll be fine I think.

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  6. What an entertaining post with all your travel photos – thank you. If that is a piquillo pepper on top of that tortilla, I love the sound of that addition.

  7. Awesome post! My daughter was just saying last night how she was dying to go back to Europe. Your post has me seriously considering adding the Basque region to our next trip!

  8. What an amazing place to visit! I’ve never been to Basque, or France for that matter, before but I love basque food. This dish looks excellent and I love all your photos of basque.

  9. I felt like I was tagging along on your trip! Also, will you deliver Mardi? More snow is ahead tomorrow and one of those tortillas would be perfect. 🙂

  10. What a lovely album of your travels. Makes me want to pack up my bags and book a flight right now. And duck prosciutto? Oh my!!!

  11. I’ve never been to the Basque region but based on your photos and description, I’d love to visit. Your “eggy goodness” comment reminds me of Julia Child :]

  12. SO making this when I get home! I could really go for something like this, right now!

    I was in Bierritz a long while ago – I remember it being very touristy and not eating very well, frankly! I was a poor student though, and that’s my only excuse 😉

    Jax x

  13. Wow. That was a huge fete. We went to a much smaller one in Provence – the running of the lambs, in a small farm town near Saint-Remy. We would love to go to a bull fight in Arles sometime.

    Hard to believe you had left-over duck prosciutto. No way that would have happened in my house. However, it does sound delicious with Dorie’s tortilla. I have her book and thanks for testing this for us. I’ll have to give it a try.

  14. WOW! What a post. This was supurb. I learned such a great deal and had a splendid meal at the end of it all. You’re a lucky lady to have done such extensive travels Mardi. Someday I hope to do some traveling as well, but for right now I’ll live vicariously through yours. Thanks for taking me along 🙂

  15. Loved this post, makes me want to be in France right now:) I can not wait to go someday soon! Your trip sounds like it was full of surprises, and truly memorable!
    Take care,

  16. Only been to the Basque country once, but would love to go back, especially after looking at your photos!
    I make Spanish Tortilla all the time and love the idea of adding a bit of duck prosciutto. Thanks! 🙂

  17. I loved reading your reportage! For a moment I was transported to the Festival! I can only imagine the excitement! My daughter and I are planning on visiting the Basque region one of these years – everything about it fascinates me.
    I made the tortilla (minus the piment d’Espelette 🙂 and it was excellent. Next time I’ll use the right spice.:)
    Thanks for sharing your escapades:)


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