Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pip, Pip, Pip Hooray! How to Make Piperade

My introduction to Piperade, a Basque dish bearing a slight resemblance to an American western omelette, was an olfactory one as Madame Ms kitchen is close to our patio.  Whenever I catch a heady whiff from the direction of her kitchen, it is fairly soon I make either that dish or one which at least contains some of its fragrant ingredients.

Bell peppers' productivity along with their small size makes them right at home in small gardens and on balconies.  The sole, red bell pepper plant which made its way out of my late spring nursery produced six lovely peppers which I harvested still green because the weather is cooling down at night.  Any coloured bell pepper can be used in Piperade, though the green ones complement the red tomatoes nicely.  The ripe, full taste of red bell peppers is my preference, but I did find the green ones mellowing out after being stewed.

The preparation for Piperade starts with a vegetable stew containing tomatoes, onions,  bell peppers, herbs, and olive oil, but minus the watery eggplant and zucchini of Ratatouille making it a less moist mixture.  Additionally, Espelette peppers are included.  Those are the long, mildly hot, red AOC peppers seen hanging on walls and balconies in the Basque region.  Since the supply Monsieur M had generously given us is long gone, I substituted a few flakes of the much hotter cayenne pepper.  

It is not actually the seeds which contribute to the heat of a pepper, but the inner membranes which are attached to them.  In regulating the heat of a dish, keep this point in mind.  Always wash your hands well after handling peppers--especially if you have pets--as you can carelessly touch your eyes or theirs, causing acute discomfort.

Realising the Romas, green peppers, onions, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf used in this recipe are all from our garden gives me an enormous satisfaction connecting me to the web of life in, well, a very delicious way!

Serves four

  • Tomatoes, 6 medium
  • Bell Peppers, 6 medium
  • Onions, 6 medium
  • Thyme, one large sprig
  • Bay leaf
  • Olive Oil, extra virgin, 9 tbsps
  • Garlic, 3 fat cloves
  • Eggs, 8 large
  • Red pepper flakes or one Espelette pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • butter as needed 

Wash the vegetables.  Peel and slice the onions thinly.  Remove the seeds and white ribs from the peppers and slice thinly.  Lightly smash the garlic cloves without peeling them.  Chop the tomatoes coarsely.

Sauté gently the onions and green and hot peppers in the olive oil for ten minutes along with the garlic cloves, thyme, bay leaf.

Add the tomatoes and simmer, covered, for twenty minutes.  Remove the garlic, bay leaf, and thyme sprig.  You can pick out any detached tomato skins.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and keep warm.

A colourful melange with a bit of heat

Scramble the eggs in butter and mix them with the vegetables.  To increase the pleasing contrast between the rich, fluffy eggs and the zing of the veggies, a tablespoon or so of cream can be beaten into the eggs before scrambling.

A slice or two of Bayonne ham, briefly pan fried, is a traditional topping.  Piperade is a cheerfully spicy dish, hearty and satisfying.  I freeze portions of the veggie stew for later mixing with freshly made scrambled eggs.

In the potager, planting for the late autumn, winter, and early spring harvests is on-going.  The remnants of the summer crops are being dug up and put on the compost pile.  Beds are being prepared for overwintering crops like lettuce and garlic in addition to cool-weather lovers like peas, spinach, turnips, and escarole.

Though Dayo certainly enjoys bathing himself on newly spaded and raked dirt, he also provides an important function, that is, tamping down the beds which helps the soil to settle down.  I consider him as a furry, welcome mat for new plants which appreciate firm soil.

Fashionista Dayo spiffing up his winter coat

The broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and leeks are coming along nicely.

The radishes planted about three weeks ago to mark rows of slower growing carrots are ready to harvest.

The small feathery plants are carrots

The variety I grow is a mild, elongated, red and white radish called French breakfast.  The French really don't eat radishes at breakfast as they prefer a sweet petit déjeunerBut they do eat buttered bread topped with thinly sliced radishes at other times.

The bread is home-made pain de campagne

The French excel at appreciating les petits bonheurs, and the combination of their excellent butter--best in the world as far as I am concerned--with pungent radishes on country rye bread is one of the better little happinesses.

À la prochaine!