Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
Special red pepper flakes from northern California
My affection for the original Piment d’Espelette came from visiting the southwest of France about 25 years ago, but red peppers have been popular in the region for much longer than that. Chiles came to the Basque Country centuries ago, arriving from Spain, after having been carried back to Europe from the Americas by Columbus and his crew. Named for the village of Espelette, where it is as prominent as green chile in New Mexico, these lovely red pepper flakes have a unique, delicate, sweet spiciness that can make almost anything you add them to more interesting. I’m happy to say that in the last few years we now have an American-grown version that is, in its own wonderful and unique way, equally excellent.
There are many folks who share in the affection for this great Basque chile. Krissy Scommegna first found out about Espelette pepper when she worked in the kitchen at the Boonville Hotel in northern California. She loved it. One day, she decided to turn her love into a way to make a living, setting out to grow the peppers on her family’s farm. It’s been a decade of hard work, lots of learning from mistakes, and I’m guessing, a good bit of apology and forgiveness. Finally, in the last few years they have had enough of this terrific, farmstead red pepper to sell to folks like us through their company, Boonville Barn Collective. Piment d’Ville, named for its Boonville terroir, is now on the shelves at the Deli. Along with her husband, Gideon Burdick, they’re doing some great work with sustainable farming and careful drying. The chile flakes have a beautiful color, amazing aroma, and spicy but not overwhelmingly hot flavor. You can still taste the Basque roots of the original Espelette in their classic version, but with a distinctive citrusy note all its own. We also have it in a spicy version as well.
In the Basque country, Espelette pepper is used to rub hams before curing, as well as an addition to pâtés, sausages, and pies. It’s most commonly added to finish any dish you’re about to eat, much as we here are accustomed to putting on black pepper—you can use the Piment d’Ville with eggs, sprinkled onto salads, pastas, fish, etc. It would be excellent on deviled eggs. I love it on toasted Paesano bread that’s been first doused with extra virgin olive oil; the pepper melts a little into the hot bread, and the flavor is terrific. It also makes a marvelous lamb or vegetable stew. Dorie Greenspan, writer of wonderful cookbooks, used the chile in a sweet potato and apple galette a few years back. Of the pepper, she said, it’s “a little hot and a little sweet and a jazzy partner that swings sweet and savory.” Try the recipe with some great local sweet potatoes and heirloom apples from the Farmers Market!