Eggstraordinary Piperade: A Basque Culinary Journey

Piperade

Piperade is a delicious Basque dish made using capsicum peppers and tomatoes. It can be a healthy meal in itself or a delightful side dish for meat or seafood. It's one of our favourite simple, healthy dinners at our house and Mr NQN's favourite dish using capsicum peppers. This is a pushy recipe Dear Reader!

Piperade or pepperade originated in the 19th century within the French Basque region. The name of this dish comes from the Latin word “piper,” which means black pepper. Piperade is usually made with green capsicums and tomatoes and the colours are said to reflect the colours of the red, white and green Basque flag. Piperade has a nice amount of spice to it thanks to Piment d'Espelette powder grown in Southwest France or Northern Spain. This pepper maxes out at 4,000 on the Scoville scale so it has a mild heat. Piperade is sometimes served with egg or meat. Some people add sugar to their piperade but I found this sweet enough as it was.

While sautéed capsicum recipes are prevalent in many cuisines, this was something special about this piperade, especially with the addition of the egg on top. This recipe was hugely influenced by one that I ate at Deux Freres, a Basque style pintxos bar in Sydney. This was so delicious that the next day I bought some capsicum peppers to recreate it at home. The key to this one and what I believe makes it so good, is the barely cooked egg that becomes creamy once you stir it through the hot piperade. Just serve it with some fresh bread and it's chef's kiss perfection.

Piperade

It has been years since I bought green capsicum or peppers because we prefer the sweeter varieties. Also capsicum is one of those vegetables that can be expensive. I ended up buying some imperfect ones which were a little less classically good looking but no less delicious (and bonus, some were half green). People often make piperade with just red capsicums as green capsicums are the least sweet capsicums.

Recently I thought I knew my peppers but it turned out I didn't. A couple of years ago for Christmas I made some feta stuffed peppers inspired by some that my friend Valentina made. They were perfect for Christmas because they were green and red and sort of elfish looking (if that makes sense). Valentina was so kind as to buy some for me as she knew that I was looking for them.

This year I got similar peppers in my vege box and I was excited to make them again for Christmas. I prepared them and stuffed them with an Italian sausage filling for something different. I placed them in the fridge where I would bake them in three hour's time just before everyone arrived. I then got onto making everything else.

Piperade

The only problem was that my fingers started hurting. What started off as an annoying prickle turned into a rapid spread of fire. I told Mr NQN that my hands felt like they were on fire but I was honestly too busy prepping Christmas food to even pay it any attention. I wrapped my fingers in tea towel wrapped ice packs and cooked one handed. It was only once everyone arrived and I sat down to eat lunch that I really felt the pain and I realised that my pretty Christmassy peppers were actually hot banana peppers!

Cold yogurt provided a temporary relief but the only thing that seemed to help was time and rubbing olive oil to dilute the oil on my hands. I had no idea that these innocent looking peppers were so ferocious and I've never looked at a pepper the same again!

So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever had a burn from a capsicum pepper? Have you ever tried piperade?

Piperade

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An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4 as a side dish or 1-2 for a light dinner with bread

  • 50ml/1.7flozs olive oil
  • 1 large brown or white onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 large green capsicum pepper (around 280g/10oz), seeded and sliced
  • 1 large red capsicum pepper (around 280g/10oz), seeded and sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
  • 3 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of thyme, leaves only
  • 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon piment d'espelette or chilli powder (or to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup/250ml/8.8flozs vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1 egg
  • Chopped chives to decorate

Buyer's note: Piment d'espelette is a Basque chilli powder that is mildly spicy. If you are unable to source this (at gourmet cooking stores) then a regular chilli powder also works but keep in mind the heat of your chilli powder and how spicy you like food. Piment d'espelette is very mild so I used 1 tablespoon's worth but if your chilli powder is hot then adjust to your taste.

Piperade

Step 1 - Heat half of the oil in a large frying pan and add the onion and saute on medium heat until it becomes translucent. Add the capsicums and sauté for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute and then add the tomatoes juice and all, bay leaves, thyme and piment d'espelette. Sauté for 20 minutes or until the capsicum peppers become soft. You can cook this for 10 minutes longer if you like the capsicums really soft. Add the tomato paste and vegetable stock and allow to thicken a little. Season with salt and pepper. You want there to be a soupy element to it. You can make this 2-3 days ahead of time.

Piperade

Step 2 -When ready to serve, preheat oven to 180C/350F. Place the piperade mixture into 4 oven proof bowls. Add 2-3 tablespoons of water into each dish. Separate the egg yolk from the whites and add the white on top of the piperade mixture and bake for 15 minutes until the white is just set. Place the egg yolk on top and sprinkle with chives and serve with bread. When eating mix the egg into the piperade and dip the bread in.

Piperade

Note: if you are serving it just after you are making the piperade, bake the egg white until just set (it won't take as long).

Piperade

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