Basque Piperade, or more properly, Piperrada, is an absolutely fabulous tomato-pepper sauce from the Basque country; the name derives from the Basque word for pepper. As with so many signature dishes, everyone has a recipe and they’re all different. In broadest terms, piperrada contains green and or red, yellow, and orange sweet peppers, tomatoes, and onion. Like that, it may be served as a side dish like a salsa or a base for stews, more like the basque version of mire poix. With the addition of a protein, (Eggs, ham or sausage), it becomes a hearty main course. The generally agreed point is that any version should be powered by red Espelette peppers, Piment d’Espelette in the French, and Ezpeletako biperra in the Basque.
That legendary chile comes from its namesake town and a few surrounding communes in the Pyrenees. For about 12 years now, they’ve had AOC status, meaning that just like Champagne and Dijon mustard, they gotta be grown there to be called the real deal Espelette. Introduced into France by explorers hundreds of years ago, they’ve become a veritable cornerstone of Basque cuisine, and a key ingredient in piperade. An pepper festival is held annually in October, with colorful ristras of drying chiles be decking the towns. Espelettes score around a 4,000 on the Scoville scale, making them about like a Jalapeño in heat output.
Fresh and dried Espelettes are available online, but caveat emptor, there are also a lot of fakes. I get mine ground from World Spice; they’re genuine AOC chiles and the quality is consistently high, https://www.worldspice.com/spices/piment-despelette. Be prepared if you decide to dive in; an ounce will set you back about twelve bucks. That said, if you want to make the authentic dish, you need the real chile; they have a fruity, earthy heat that reflects their terroir; like legendary grapes, that certain je ne sais quoi comes from nowhere else. Here’s my version.
5-7 fresh, ripe Tomatoes
1 large Sweet Onion, chopped
1 Green Bell Pepper, seeded and chopped
5-6 small, sweet Yellow and Orange Peppers, seeded and chopped
1-2 Hatch Chiles, (Hot or Mild as you prefer)seeded and finely chopped
2-3 cloves Garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground Piment d’Espelette
1/2 teaspoon local Honey
1/2 teaspoon Sal de Mer
1/4 teaspoon ground Pepper Blend
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion, peppers, garlic, salt, paprika, black pepper, and sugar, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through.
Add the tomatoes to the cooked vegetables and simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 15 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened.
Transfer to a glass or stainless container and allow to cool thoroughly before serving.
Will last for a good week refrigerated in any air tight container.