Pepper season is full on! At the farmers markets through September find plump, shiny, sweet and hot peppers perfect for piperade. This Basque version of ratatouille is served throughout the sun-kissed region nestled between the Atlantic Coast and Pyrenees. In France’s St.-Jean-de-Luz, the regional focus is on sweet bell and hot peppers. Hop over the Spanish border to San Sebastian and find tomatoes and green peppers in the mix.
Piperade is served as a main dish with crusty bread, a side to Serrano ham, a condiment for grilled fish, roasted chicken and lamb. But I favor this fragrant stew with eggs — fried, poached, scrambled, and in cheesy omelets.
In our farmers markets, find an array of brilliant colors, pretty as a late summer sunset — red, orange, yellow, violet, ocher — firm, thin-fleshed, and intensely sweet and with hints of spice. Store whole peppers in the crisper section of the refrigerator for up to a week. Avoid plastic as it will trap moisture and hasten decay.
You can also core and slice the peppers to freeze for later. Line the slices on a cookie sheet, freeze until solid and transfer to an airtight plastic bag, then return it to the freezer. Come January, you can simmer up a taste of summer.
Piperade is best cooked long enough that the peppers release their luscious juices and melt together. It’s one of those dishes whose flavors improve a day after it’s made and the seasonings have had a chance to marry. It will keep for up to a week in a covered container in the refrigerator, ready for breakfast, lunch, appetizers and dinner.
Classic recipes for piperade include green peppers, but they can be bitter and slightly tough, so I leave them out. The balance of sweet bell peppers, such as the tiny Basque Fryer, and hot chile peppers is really up to the cook. A ripe poblano, banana pepper or Anaheim pepper will add a lick of heat to this stew. Add a ripe serrano or jalapeño to kick everything up a notch or two. You can temper the heat by removing the seeds and veins of those chiles before tossing them into the pot. Basque cooks augment the dish with judicious additions of spicy or hot paprika, or in Spanish, pimento picante.
Piperade is the perfect dish for this glorious pepper season for topping bruschetta, spooning over grilled foods and with coddled eggs.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.