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”)