From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...Each summer, just about this time, I start to daydream about the heady and distinctive food of the French Basque region. The Basque people occupy a narrow strip of land nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the western Pyrenees in a region that spans the border between France and Spain. While Basque food tends to be unique, elements of both cuisines can be found in the food favored by the people of this region. Ingredients you might be familiar with, include Bayonne ham and piment d’Espelette, a chili pepper that is used to flavor one of the region's best known dishes, piperade. A fleeting thought of piperade, visually triggered by bins of peppers appearing in farmer's markets, usually begins my reverie, and before I can help myself, I find myself slicing peppers with a vengeance and speed that rivals that of the guillotine. Come September, my freezer will have neatly labeled packets of stewed and seasoned peppers that will bring sunshine to my winter kitchen. Plainly stated, I love piperade and serve it often as a main course or side dish, depending on my fancy. The dish is made with sauteed onions, bell peppers and tomatoes that are flavored with Espelette pepper. It can be served with rice or potatoes, and eggs, meat and poultry can also be added to make the dish more substantial. The dish has wonderful color that, by accident or design, reflects the red, green and white colors of the Basque flag. It also has a robust flavor that I find addicting. The recipe I use to make piperade was developed by Julia Child and can be found in her book, The Way to Cook. While there are many fine recipes for piperade floating around, I continue to use hers. It's like an old friend and my kitchen just wouldn't be the same were it to be swapped with another. If you have never had piperade, I hope you will give this recipe a try. It is wonderful and quite easy to make. Use proscuitto to replace Bayonne ham and hot Hungarian paprika as a substitute for piment d’Espelette. I most often use piperade in a braised chicken dish that is so simple it needs no recipe. A cut-up chicken is first sauteed and then placed in a casserole with piperade. It simmers, stovetop, for about 45 minutes and is served with white rice. If you like well-flavored food, I know you will love casserole. Here's the recipe.
Piperade...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Julia Child
6 medium tomatoes or 1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons olive oil
4 ounces thinly sliced Bayonne ham or proscuitto, cut into 1/2-inch squares
2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
1 medium dried bay leaf
2 medium red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, cleaned and sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips
2 medium green bell peppers, cleaned and sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips
2 teaspoons piment d’Espelette or hot Hungarian paprika
1) If using fresh tomatoes, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Prepare an ice water bath by filling a medium bowl halfway with ice and water. Using tip of a knife, remove stem and cut a shallow X-shape into bottom of each tomato. Place tomatoes in the boiling water and blanch until the skin just starts to pucker and loosen, about 10 seconds. Drain and immediately immerse tomatoes in ice water bath. Using a small knife, peel loosened skin and cut each tomato in half. With a small spoon, scrape out any seeds, then core and coarsely chop remaining flesh. Set aside.
2) Place a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. When oil shimmers, add ham or proscuitto and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s golden brown, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate and set aside.
3) Return pan to heat, add remaining 2 teaspoons oil, and, once heated, add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring rarely, until soft and beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Stir in herbs and pepper slices and season well with salt. Cover and cook, stirring rarely, until peppers are slightly softened, about 10 minutes.
4) Stir in diced tomatoes, browned ham, and piment d’Espelette or paprika and season well with salt. Cook uncovered until mixture melds and juices have slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
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