No matter how rich or poor you are in the Philippines, you have eaten home-cooked torta at one time or another, and probably more times than you can remember or care to admit. Torta is a frittata and, in the Philippines, the most common version is cooked with minced or ground meat and small pieces of vegetables that often include potatoes, carrots and sweet peas. Before there were non-stick pans, torta was cooked in frying pans lined with wilted banana leaves which not only prevented the torta from sticking to the pan but also lent a fresh herby aroma that gives the dish a decidedly tropical flavor.
But why is torta so popular? It’s easy to prepare, for one thing. Torta is also highly versatile — anything can be cooked with the beaten eggs from the expensive chorizo de Bilbao to a meagre amount of inexpensive fatty ground pork or the even less expensive offal. To emphasize how torta can be such an inexpensive dish, leftovers can be cooked into a torta too.
So, I cooked torta for lunch today and was about to post a recipe for my new version. I took photos, downloaded them to my iMac, saw how messy the pan looked by the time the torta was done.
But that’s real cooking. If pans don’t get dirty and the kitchen stays immaculate all throughout the cooking process, then, you’re not cooking but doing something else. Perhaps, you’re just doing a photo or video shoot. If you think that what you see in The Food Network shows should be your peg, think again. The cooking pans used in those shows are provided by sponsors so there’s always a brand new set for every episode. That’s why you don’t see scratches and nicks and stains on them.
And why are the kitchens in those shows always so immaculately clean? Because, between takes, there’s a crew that wipes and washes to get rid of drips and splatters.
And why is it that when one of those TV cooking show hosts opens the fridge, everything is so organized? It’s called staging. The director checks every inch that will go into the camera frame before the shoot begins, and assigns someone to make sure that nothing looks less than perfect.
It is TV, after all, and nothing is a hundred per cent real. If you think that’s how home cooking ought to be, you need to hire a crew of at least four people and get a sponsor for your cookware too.
So, here’s the recipe for the torta that was cooked in a pan that got all messy by the time it was done.
Pinoy torta, re-imagined, with cheese and chilies
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 100 grams minced fatty bacon
- 100 grams ground beef
- 2 tablespoons chopped onion
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- salt pepper and sugar
- 1 finger chili very thinly sliced
- 3 large eggs beaten
- 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used Pepper Jack)
- parsley to garnish
- Heat the frying pan before anything else -- in fact, even before pouring in the oil. That will prevent anything from sticking to it.
- When the pan is hot, pour in the olive oil and add the butter. Heat until the butter melts.
- Add the minced bacon to the pan. Cook over medium heat, with occasional stirring, until no longer pink.
- Add the ground beef to the bacon. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned.
- Throw in the chopped onion, minced garlic and tomato paste. Stir to distribute the tomato paste evenly. Season with just enough salt, pepper and sugar to create a good balance.
- Spread the mixture evenly to cover the entire bottom of the pan.
- Sprinkle the sliced chili over the meat.
- Pour in the beaten eggs. Cook until the edges of the torta looks a bit set. Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook just until the center of the torta is set.
- Turn off the heat. Sprinkle the cheese over the torta. Wait until the cheese melts. Slide the torta onto a plate. Sprinkle with snipped parsley. Serve.