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TIP OF THE DAY: Piperade & Espelette Pepper

Pipérade (French) or piperrada (Spanish) is a French Basque dish made from green bell pepper, garlic, onion and tomato, sautéd together and seasoned with red espelette pepper.

The word derives from piper, the Basque word for pepper. The colors—red, white and green—are those of the Basque flag (said to be a coincidence).

Basque Country straddles the border between France and Spain on the Atlantic coast, Pyrénées-Atlantiques north and south of the Pyrenees Mountains.

The area has a rich culinary heritage, including some 40 Michelin-starred restaurants and a sheep cheese, Ossau-Iraty, named best cheese in the world at the World Cheese Championships in 2011.

Pipérade is a dish from the Northern Basque Country (French Basque Country), which lies entirely within France and known as Pays Basque Français in French.

Pipérade is related to the Provençal ratatouille, which adds zucchini and eggplant to the mix. Both are colorful and versatile dishes that can be enjoyed any time of the day (and are a delicious way to add to your daily vegetable servings).

WAYS TO SERVE PIPERADE

While many of these applications may not be traditional Basque, they show the flexibility of piperade.
 
Pipérade At Breakfast

  • With eggs, any style
  • Atop polenta, with or without a fried egg
  • With cheese grits or other porridge (cream of wheat, cream of rice)
  • A Basque version of shakshsouka
  • On toast
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    Pipérade At Lunch

  • On a burger
  • On a sandwich: grilled cheese, turkey, ham
  • On pizza
  • As a vegetable sandwich (instead of grilled vegetables), with or without mozzarella or other cheese
  • As a vegetable plate, with rice or other grain
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    Pipérade At Dinner

  • As an appetizer, on crostini or bruschetta
  • As an appetizer, in tartlet shells
  • As a side, alone or with grains or potatoes
  • Atop grilled, roasted or sautéed chicken*, fish or pork
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    *In French Basque cuisine, piment d’espelette with ham is often served over braised chicken.
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    RECIPE: PIPERADE

    When bell peppers are on sale, we load up and make a batch of pipérade (it can be frozen). We’re flexible on the color of the bell peppers (in fact, we prefer a mix of colors ).

    While waiting for summer tomatoes (and after they’re gone), we use whole canned San Marzano† tomatoes instead of the bland plum tomatoes in the market. Drain them, but save the juice and drink it, plain or with a splash of gin.

    We adapted this recipe from one by Chef Aida Mollenkamp. She peels the tomatoes. We’re lazy and often skip this step (and usually use use the peeled, canned San Marzano tomatoes, anyway).

       

    Chicken With Piperade

    Piperade Poached Eggs

    Piperade Crostini

    Sirloin With Piperade

    [1] Pipérade crostini (here’s the recipe from The New York Times, and another recipe for piperade with Arctic char). [2] Eggs poached in pipérade, shakshouka-style (here’s the recipe from Au Petit Gout). [3] Chicken with pipérade, a basque classic (here’s the recipe Williams-Sonoma). [4] Sirloin with pipérade and arugula pesto (photo from Sun Basket meal delivery service).

     

     

    Fresh Espelette Pepper

    Ground Espelette Pepper

    [5] Fresh espelette peppers in the marketplace (photo courtesy Lurrak). [6] Ground espelette pepper, used in recipes (photo courtesy La Maison du Piment).

     

    Ingredients

  • 6 medium tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced Bayonne ham, 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
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons piment d’espelette
  • Optional: Bayonne‡ ham or substitute (2)
  • ________________

    †The San Marzano is an heirloom variety of plum tomato, originally planted in the town of the same name at the base of Mount Vesuvius, near Naples. The volcanic soil and sunny climate grow tomatoes that are among the most sought-after on earth, with remarkable, sweet, intense tomato flavor. The canned variety are also delicious.

    ‡Bayonne ham is a cured ham from the French Basque country. If you can’t find it, substitute prosciutto or other ham.
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    Preparation

    1. PEEL the 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 the tip of a knife, remove the stem and cut a shallow X-shape into the bottom of each tomato. Place the tomatoes in the boiling water and blanch until the skin just starts to pucker and loosen, about 10 seconds. Drain and immediately immerse the tomatoes in the ice water bath. Using a small knife, peel the loosened skin and cut each tomato in half. With a small spoon, scrape out any seeds, then core and coarsely chop the remaining flesh. Set aside.

     
    2. PLACE a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot with a tigh-fitting lid over medium heat, and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When the oil shimmers, add the ham and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s golden brown, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ham to a plate and set aside.

    3. RETURN the pan to the heat, add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil, and, once heated, add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring a few times, until soft and beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Stir in the herbs and bell pepper slices and season well with salt. Cover and cook, stirring a few times, until the peppers are slightly softened, about 10 minutes.

    4. STIR in the diced tomatoes, browned ham, and piment d’Espelette, and season with salt to taste. Cook uncovered until the mixture melds and the juices have slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and serve.
     
    THE ESPELETTE PEPPER

    The espelette pepper, called piment d’espelette in French and ezpeletako biperra in Basque, is a variety of species Capsicum annuum that is cultivated in the French commune of Espelette in the Northern Basque Country (Pays Basque Français).

    Chiles, which are native to Central and South America, were brought to France in the 16th century. It is believed that the chiles were introduced into the Basque Nive Valley in 1523 by Gonzalo Percaztegi, a navigator who voyaged with Christopher Columbus (who brought chiles to Spain in 1494). It became popular as a condiment and is now a staple of Basque cuisine, where it has gradually replaced black pepper.

    This pepper has only a maximum of 4,000 SHUs on the Scoville Scale and is therefore considered only mildly hot—at the level of cayenne and Louisiana hot sauce.

    Espelette pepper can be purchased as fresh or dried whole peppers (photo #5), as ground pepper (photo #6), as purée in jars or pickled in jars. For fresh espelette, look for non-AOC espelette peppers grown in California.

    Growing in French soil, its unique qualities have earned it AOC and APO classifications. An annual pepper festival organized by Confrérie du Piment d’Espelette, held the last weekend in October since 1968, attracts some 20,000 tourists [source].

    If you can’t find it, substitute hot paprika or cayenne.

    See the different types of chiles in our Chile Glossary.

      

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    GIFT OF THE DAY: Just Spices, Extra-Fresh Spice Blends

    Usually THE NIBBLE doesn’t review spices, salad dressings and other categories where it’s difficult to describe the differences or superiority of one brand over another.

    After all, if you tried garlic powder from three different producers, what would you say? Once the garlic is cooked in the recipe, any brand will taste good.

    But when we met up with Just Spices, and the contents were so fresh, beautiful and aromatic (see photo #1) that we couldn’t resist them, both for our own kitchen and as stocking stuffers.

    There’s something for everyone on our list—not just spices, but herbs, too:

  • BBQ Popcorn Seasoning
  • BBQ Seasoning
  • Extra Spicy Seasoning
  • Flavors Of Italy
  • Flavors Of Mexico
  • Guacamole Seasoning
  • Hickory Rub
  • Murray River Salt (beautiful apricot-hued crystals)
  • Oatmeal Spice Blend
  • Pancake Blend
  • Pizza Seasoning
  • Pork Rub
  • Savory Eggs Blend
  • Seafood Rub
  • Smoothie Boost
  • Spicy Garlic Blend
  • Spicy Popcorn Seasoning
  • Steak Rub
  • Sweet Potato Seasoning
  • Tellicherry Pepper
  • Texas BBQ Dip
  • Vegetable Broth Seasoning
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    Just Spices Savory Eggs Blend

    Just Spices BBQ Popcorn Seasoning

    Just Spices Gift Box

    [1] Savory Eggs Blend, a beautiful selection of aromas, flavors and colors. [2] There are two popcorn seasoning blends: BBQ and Spicy. [3] Give individual spices or a box of six Kitchen Essentials (all photos courtesy Just Spices).

     
    Prices range from $5.49 to $6.99.

    A Kitchen Essentials gift box of six spices is $34.49, and includes BBQ Seasoning, Flavors of Italy, Murray River Salt, Spicy Garlic Seasoning, Tellicherry Pepper and Vegetable Broth Seasoning.
     
    WHAT TO GIVE

    We’re giving Oatmeal Spice Blend to our oatmeal-eating friends, BBQ and Spicy Popcorn Seasonings to our popcorn-popping friends, Spicy Garlic Blend to our garlic-loving friends, and so on.

    Just scan the list above to pick what will be loved by your family, friends and colleagues (and don’t forget to buy your own).

    The bright, hip packaging is terrific: “a gift waiting to happen” we thought, the first time we saw them. The color and aroma of the contents are unmatched by other brands we’ve purchased.

    In fact, the brand was started by three college friends who couldn’t find what they wanted at the supermarket.

    Take advantage of their inspiration and travels around the world to buy from the best small growers. Because they buy and produce in small batches, the spices are so vibrant and fragrant, we spent quite some time inhaling each one.
     
    Order yours at JustSpices.com.

      

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    GIFT OF THE DAY: Bacon Sea Salt

    Bacon Sea Salt

    Sprinkle bacon sea salt on everything (photo courtesy Food Shed Exchange).

     

    Bacon, bacon, everywhere: That’s what you’ll have with a container of bacon sea salt. Crumbled bacon is blended with crunchy sea salt and a hint of spices.

    There are countless ways to use it. For starters:

  • Eggs
  • Hors d’oeuvre
  • Mac & Cheese and other pasta dishes
  • Popcorn
  • Potatoes
  • Rice and other grains
  • Sandwich spread (add to mayonnaise)
  • Vegetables (corn, tomatoes, everything)
  •  
    A four-ounce container is $9.73. Larger sizes are available.

    Get yours at FoodShedExchange.com.

     

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Spices & Dried Herbs As Plate Garnishes

    Pork & Cabbage Salad

    Round Squash Ravioli

    Dessert Plate Garnish

    Spice Cocktail Rim

    [1] Chef Eric Levine adds a ring of flavorful spices around a circle of salad. [2] At Obicà, a Neapolitan-focused restaurant, Chef Erind Halilaj adds a dramatic spice stripe over butternut squash ravioli. [3] They’re not spices, but crumbs, used here by Chef Daniel Eddy of Rebelle, are lovely garnishes. [4] Spice blends make tasty rimmers for cocktails, too (photo courtesy Pompeian).

     

    For festive occasions—or simply to dress up an everyday meal—make your plates sing with a scatter of spice.

    Once upon a time, professional chefs and the home cooks who copied would use a piece of parsley or other green herb to garnish the plate. Since most foods fell into the brown-beige color family, the plate garnish would “give it some color.” Few people actually considered eating the parsley.

    Today’s chefs are much more innovative. The paltry parsley has evolved into colored swaths of sauce, brushed onto plates; polka dots of sauce; drizzles of coulis; swirls of olive oil; condiments splattered like Jackson Pollack.

    But the easiest way—no steady hand required—is to scatter herbs and spices onto the plate.

    All you need to do is select flavors and colors that complement the food on the plate.

     
    RECOMMENDED DRIED HERBS & SPICES FOR GARNISHING

    This is not a comprehensive list; we went mostly for textured items rather than finely-ground powders. But you can use the latter if they work with your plate decorating concept.
     
    Savory Dried Herbs & Spices

  • Black: black lava salt, nigella seeds, peppercorns (crushed/cracked), poppy seeds, toasted sesame seeds
  • Brown: allspice, caraway seeds, grains of paradise, nutmeg (crushed/cracked), smoked sea salt and other flavored gourmet salts, urfa biber
  • Green (pale): aniseed, fennel seeds, garam masala, green peppercorns, herbes de provence, lime peel, matcha salt, oregano, rosemary, za’atar
  • Green (deep): basil, chervil, cilantro, dill weed, epazote, fenugreek, fines herbs, matcha, parsley, tarragon
  • Orange: orange zest, shichimi togarashi (Japanese Seven-Spice)
  • Pink/Purple: Himalayan pink sea salt, lavender buds, Merlot sea salt, pink peppercorns, rose petals
  • Red: achiote, alaea red lava salt, aleppo or other chile flakes, annato seeds, gochu garu (Korean chile flakes), piment d’espelette, sriracha salt and other red gourmet salts
  • Tan: celery seeds, Old Bay seasoning,
  • Yellow: aji amarillo powder, curry salt and other yellow flavored salts, fennel pollen, grapefruit zest, lemon zest, mustard seeds, turmeric
  • White: coarse sea salt (especially flake salt like Maldon or Cypress), flavored coarse white salt (garlic, lemon, lime) sesame seeds
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    More Savory Options
    You may also have some of these in the cupboard:

  • Crumbs: bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, pretzel crumbs
  • Savory drink rimmers
  • Spice blends, from Italian herbs to shichimi togarashi, Japanese Seven Spice (don’t overlook Mrs. Dash)
  • Meat rubs
  • Smoked and flavored salts (for ideas see SeaSalt.com)
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    Sweet Dried Herbs & Spices

    For desserts and other sweet dishes, consider:

  • Colored sugars: coarse sugar, decorating sugar, decorative sugar (shapes), sanding sugar, sparkling sugar
  • Conventional sugars: dark brown, demerara, light brown, muscovado, turbinado
  • Crumbs: cake crumbs, cookie crumbs
  • Flavored sugars: blueberry, cinnamon, espresso, green chile, raspberry, etc. (here’s the selection at EssentialCane.com, plus how to make your own)
  • Sweet herbs: basil, chervil, lemon thyme, garam masala, marjoram, mint, pink peppercorns, sage, sweet cicely, tarragon
  • Sweet spice blends: apple pie spice, chai spice, mulling spice, pumpkin pie spice
  • Sweet spices:
  • +Black, brown and tan: allspice, anise seed, brown sugar (dark, light, raw, turbinado, cacao nibs, cardamom, cassia buds, chia seeds, cinnamon (crushed sticks), coffee beans (crushed), cloves (whole or crushed), nutmeg (freshly ground), poppy seed, vanilla bean pod (crushed)
    +Green: lime peel or zest, matcha powder
    +Pink and purple: dried rose petals (crumbled), lavender buds
    +Yellow and gold: bee pollen, ginger (crystallized or cracked), granulated honey, peel or zest (grapefruit, lemon, orange)
    +White: sesame seeds

     
    MORE HERB & SPICE TIPS

  • Don’t toss “end of the bottle” spices and herbs to make room for new bottles. Instead, combine them in an empty bottle to create your own “garnishing blend.”
  • If an herb or spice has lost its flavor, you can still use it for garnish. In fact, it’s a great use for past-their-prime seasonings.
  • If you don’t like a spice you’re purchased, use it for a plate garnish. Some people don’t even attempt to taste the spices; and those who do dip a fork in it may like it.
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    WANT TO ADD A DRIZZLE?

    If your plate could still use some filler, match one of these to the food. Note that the oil (or any liquid) should be placed on the plate first, before the food and the garnish.

  • Flavored oils: from basil and blood orange to habanero and wasabi.
  • Colored oils: naturally colored oils include avocado oil (virgin), hot chile oil*, dark sesame oil* and mustard oil*; you also can make your own colored oils).
  • Olive oil—for artistic purposes, the darker the better. You can add green food color—which is what more than a few bottlers [illegally] do.
  • Syrups: agave, dessert syrup, flavored simple syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses.
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    *These oils can be very strong, and may have to be diluted with olive oil or plated in droplets.

      

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    FOOD 101: Vanilla Vs. French Vanilla

    A reader writes: What’s the difference between vanilla and French vanilla? Simply this:

  • Vanilla is the flavoring made from the vanilla bean Vanilla beans themselves are identified in the trade by origin: Indonesian, Madagascar (Bourbon), Mexican, Tahitian, etc. (see the different types (origins) of vanilla beans). Vanilla ice cream without eggs is called Philadelphia-style ice cream, dating back to the 18th century when it was developed as an alternative to French vanilla.
  • French vanilla is a classic French technique to enrich ice cream, by adding egg yolks to the recipe. The egg combines with the cream to create a custard base, which in turn provides a richer flavor, creamier texture, and a yellowish tinge to the color. USDA regulations require ice cream labeled “French vanilla” to be at least 1.4 % egg yolk.
  • Vanillin, artificial vanilla, is a cheaper alternative. It is used in products called vanilla-flavored.
  •  
    Beyond ice cream, French vanilla refers to a vanilla flavor is caramelized, eggy, custard-like.
     
    WHAT IS NOT FRENCH VANILLA

    As with so many other terms, people misuse “French vanilla,” either through ignorance or for marketing. French vanilla, after all, sounds more exciting than vanilla.

    Worse, “plain vanilla” has become an expression for bland and boring, the simplest version of something. It may be “plain vanilla,” but it’s still the most popular ice cream flavor in the U.S.

    Products that have co-opted the French vanilla name include coffee creamers, flavored coffees and teas, vanilla-flavored drinks (shakes, lattes) and syrups.

    It even extends to aromas, such as French vanilla candles and potpourri.

    French vanilla means added eggs, and none of these products contains them.
     
    MORE VANILLA FACTS

  • The small flecks of ground vanilla pod added by some manufacturers do not in of themselves indicate the best ice cream; in fact, the flavor is negligible if at all. They do, however, have eye appeal and may provide a bit of texture.
  • Vanilla bean versus extract: When using top-quality vanilla extract is near impossible to taste whether the ice cream is made from extract or by first infusing seeds from the pod in the cream.
  • Vanilla comes from a orchid variety called flat-leaved vanilla. The fruit of the plant is called the pod, which contains the beans that are used to make vanilla flavoring by extracting the flavor from the beans.
  • Most vanilla is made from Madagascar vanilla beans, also called Bourbon vanilla because the French Bourbons ruled Madagascar at the time. Vanilla is native to Madagascar.
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    ALSO CHECK OUT:

    HISTORY & TYPES OF VANILLA

    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF ICE CREAM

    CHOCTÀL SINGLE ORIGIN ICE CREAM, made in four different vanilla flavors using different vanilla beans, as well as chocolate ice creams made with cacao beans from four different origins

    Plus:

  • Tahitian Vanilla
  • Caring For Your Vanilla Beans
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    Vanilla Beans

    Egg  Yolk

    French Vanilla ice Cream

    French Vanilla

    [1] Vanilla beans, from a particular orchid, are most often converted into vanilla extract by soaking the seeds in an alcohol base (photo courtesy Natures Flavours). [2] To make French vanilla, egg yolks are required. They blend with the cream to create a custard, which makes the ice cream richer (photo courtesy ANH-USA.org). [3] Flavors called French Vanilla should have egg yolks, as this one does (photo courtesy Dreyers.com). [4] One of many examples where marketing trumps fact (photo courtesy Bigelow).

  • Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe (he brought the recipe back from France)
  • Make Your Own Vanilla Extract (fun and great for gifting)
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