Food plays an important role in the film that got Penelope Cruz a best actress Oscar nomination, Volver. Raimunda, Cruz's character, receives food from her deceased mother and ends up running a restaurant in Madrid. The food in the movie, like that in the Spanish culture, symbolizes a sense of community, family, and tradition. Instead of hiring a restaurant or caterers to prepare the food in the film, director Pedro Almodovar recruited his two sisters to cook authentic dishes from his childhood in La Mancha. In the movie, Tortilla Española, perhaps the most common traditional dish, is paired with my personal favorite Spanish dish, Pisto Manchego (I like to eat my pisto the Andalucian way with a fried egg and French fries). For the recipes and to watch the trailer for Volver,

Tortilla Española
From The Cuisines of Spain: Exploring Regional Home Cooking by Teresa Barrenechea

1 cup olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
6 white or red boiling potatoes, about 2 pounds, peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 eggs

  1. Slice the potatoes crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick pieces and place in a large bowl. With a cotton cloth or paper towels, dry the slices well.
  2. Pour the olive oil into a 9-inch, nonstick pan (preferably with slanted sides) and heat over high setting for two minutes, until almost smoking. Add the potatoes carefully (to minimize splattering oil) so they cover the bottom of the pan. Cook for 7 minutes over medium heat then add the onions, spreading them over the potatoes.
  3. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes turn golden (do not let the onions burn). Remove from heat and let cool for several minutes.
  4. With a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes and onions onto several layers of paper towels. Reserve the oil in a container.
  5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the potato mixture and stir gently. Season liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let sit for 5 minutes.
  6. Wipe out the pan and add 1 tablespoon of the reserved oil. Place the pan over high heat. When oil is extremely hot but not smoking, add the egg mixture. Cook for 30 seconds, gently shaking the pan to distribute the mixture. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the surface is nearly cooked but still runny.
  7. Remove pan from heat and let sit for 2 minutes. Place a large plate over the pan. Holding the handle of the pan in one hand and the plate in the other, flip the omelet quickly and remove the pan. (If you are unsure of this, slip the omelet, semi-cooked side up, onto a plate, then cover with another plate and flip).
  8. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan over high heat for 1 minute. Gently slide the tortilla, semi-cooked side down, into the pan. Cook for 1 minute. Slide the tortilla onto a warm platter.

Serves 4 to 6.

Pisto Manchego
From The Cuisines of Spain: Exploring Regional Home Cooking by Teresa Barrenechea

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet green chili peppers, seeded and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch rings
2 pounds ripe, fleshy tomatoes, peeled and chopped
Pinch of sugar
Salt, to taste

  1. In a 9-inch stainless-steel or enamel frying pan, heat all but 1 tablespoon of the oil over high heat. Add the peppers and lower heat to medium. Cook, stirring frequently, until the peppers soften and turn almost golden. Remove the peppers from the pan.
  2. Add the tomatoes to the pan; bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes or until the tomato liquid is absorbed. Add the sugar, salt, and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture is a thick puree.
  3. Add the peppers to the tomatoes, mix well, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. The pisto should have a golden layer of oil on top.
  4. After the pisto cools, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours to allow the flavors to develop. Reheat to serve with tortilla española.

Serves 4.