Cooking in good company..


For those of us who live in Northern Europe the month of August has, by dint of coincidental school holidays,  become the accepted time of the year for the family seaside vacation which is unfortunate as, in my memory, those thirty one days never fail to produce a disproportionate amount of rain. An afternoon spent in the unwelcome, if expected, yet still incongruous semi darkness that only an unseasonable August rain storm can bring, was made more than bearable for me by the good company of both Elizabeth David and Somerset Maugham.

A day earlier I had optimistically made some very seasonal, both in colour and flavour, peperonata with the intention of enjoying it al fresco but because, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge said “..summer had set in with its usual severity”  this turn of events precluded any thoughts of outside eating. Nevertheless, the large quantity of peperonata remained uneaten and needed to be adapted to the current conditions. I had been reading some Somerset Maugham short stories, set in the exotic South Seas of the early 20th century, with the hope of instilling some sort of warmth into my soul, if not my body, which plan was succeeding to a certain extent save for the pangs of lunchtime hunger. Mr. Maugham’s wanderlust had led my mind to Tahiti but my palate had set off, independently, to the Basque region where it ran into Elizabeth who recommended that I moved, most ricky ticky, into the kitchen where together we, her in book form and me in an apron, would transform the out of favour peperonata, with the aid of some eggs, into a bubbling pan of brilliantly colourful piperade.



Piperade, when made according to Ms.David’s recipe, does not include the multicoloured array of peppers which I had included in my peperonata, which was itself untrue to its own genuine recipe.The truth of the matter was that I had a bunch of coloured peppers, some good tomatoes, garlic and onions and I stewed them together in olive oil. This is a good dish but it has no name. Elizabeth David is nothing if not precise. She may have led the most wondrously enviable life of adventure and debauch but, when it comes to correctness in the kitchen, she is not to be fucked with.
Précis of Elizabeth David’s recipe from “French Provincial Cooking”
Because this concoction of eggs and peppers from the Basque country is one the most widely travelled of all French regional dishes, it is also one that is frequently misinterpreted. Here is a very simple recipe.
I (that’s me, not Ms. David) will not include quantities as each of us will make it for different amounts of people with differing appetites.In her book, Ms.David recommends a proportion of I onion,6 green peppers, 2lbs tomatoes and 4 beaten eggs.
Heat some goose fat or olive oil in a pan and in it gently soften a finely sliced onion until it starts to turn yellow. Having deseeded and sliced your peppers into strips add them to the pan and cook, occasionally stirring, for about 15 minutes before adding your roughly chopped tomatoes, which I (me) do not bother to skin.Season with some finely chopped garlic, sea salt and ground black pepper and cook until the tomatoes are nearly a pulp. To this mixture add some well beaten eggs and stir them through until they resemble scrambled eggs. I (me) prefer to take the pan from the heat when the eggs are still creamy and put some of the mixture onto thick slices of buttered country bread. Ms.David suggests serving the mixture with a slice or two of grilled or fried ham, such as jambon de Bayonne, on the side or, indeed, just surround the egg mixture with some freshly made croutons of fried bread.

This dish has never disappointed me and it is very adaptable. A spoonful or two of the mixture put into an omelette creates Omellete Basquaise ( “French Provincial Cooking”)

About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
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50 Responses to Cooking in good company..

  1. Roger, the color, the flavor, the smell and the taste; you’ve got all of my senses aroused, as I laze about this fine, New England, Sunday morn. I must arise now and go down to the kitchen and stir things up a bit.

  2. Sounds like you made the best of it when the world decided to throw a wrench in your plans, and it all looks incredibly beautiful too.

  3. suej says:

    Truly scrumptious, even on a wet and windy day…love your comment re ED’s wild life, but not to be f****d with in the kitchen! Spot on!

  4. Angeline M says:

    Seems pretty wonderful to be cozied up in a place with wind and rain blowing and pouring outside, and to be inside with Somerset, and Ms. David….a menage a trois? hot, hot, hot. And of course, the piperade.

  5. I’ll have to try this with all the heirloom tomatoes I have getting vine-ripen on my terrace! We are about to take our family seaside vacation at the end of the month 🙂 Going to Santa Susanna & Barcelona, Spain for a week!

  6. Reblogged this on Westminster Enterprise Centre and commented:
    lookin 2 good to eat!

  7. Mad Dog says:

    Ha ha – I believe Elizabeth David would literally bite people’s heads off when fucked with!
    You picked a good August day for rain – there were cows and sheep along with cats and dogs here this morning! It was still humid enough that my waterproofs were almost as damp on the inside as the outside, as I cycled to Islington Farmers’ Market 🙂

  8. lulu says:

    Could we do this on the boat? It would be a definite prove meant over what we’ve had the last few days.

  9. Fantastic – just what I needed to see.

    It was 24.5 degrees C, sunny and 95 percent humidity here when I got up this morning!

  10. God bless Ms David and her recipe! And I adore your copper pan – beautiful

  11. Eha says:

    Busy Monday morning notwithstanding you have tempted me to run my searching fingers along my bookshelves in search of both the particular David and certainly the Maugham I have not enjoyed for years . . .and the photos certainly demand one not to wait for summer’s bounty but make a pan of piperade with much travelled paler imitations of the summer exhibition on your plate!!

  12. EllaDee says:

    Food colouring the way nature intended it… no FD&C’s or numbers required.

  13. That’s exactly what I have in my fridge to make it as a wonderful breakfast, lunch……. Colors do matter to me as a photographer and as “passionatist” , uhh new word creation, of eye pleasing food.

  14. What a wonderful story and photos to go along with….I so enjoy your posts.

  15. We’re actually lucking out here in New England this summer. The past few years it would get really stormy and rainy in August. And these dishes would be perfect for that weather.

  16. Karen says:

    This reminds me of one of my husband’s favorite dishes, Italian peppers and eggs…although yours will be more savory because of your ingredients. I know it must have been good…that and the good company. 😀

  17. Conor Bofin says:

    You have put “Cakes and Ale” in my mind. I must re-read. A truly masterful tome.

  18. Amanda says:

    Amazing. This is so beautiful. I usually agree with Coleridge, but I never view summer as severe, even when severe whether strikes. 🙂

  19. This is perfect – in Ireland, summer so often fails to live up to our expectations weather-wise, but this recipe seems to toe the line perfectly between cosy and comforting, yet bursting with freshness.

  20. great photos! I know I’m hungry 😀

  21. Roger, the colours and ideas are almost overwhelming. I’m resolving to try one of these recipes in the next week!

  22. Mary Frances says:

    I love that this recipe can be easily altered to feed a couple or a crowd. Looks delicious!

  23. It’s exactly like Turkish menemen, which I can eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with some chorizo added. It now adds one more complication regarding the origin of the dish. Hmm…anyway, I have very fond memories of Basque cuisine in San Sebastian. Love your photos. Sorry I can’t stop complimenting because I like them.

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