What is piperade and is it the same as pepperonata? Piperade, pronounced ‘peep-er-rahd’, is a French, specifically Basque, dish of sweet peppers seasoned with spicy espelette pepper; a bit like a spicy overcooked ratatouille.
They do compete in their respective kitchens, the Italians and the French. Though I hasten to specify: the Basques in this instance, lest they get offended to be called French. Although the issue is wider than Pays Basques; so hopefully the assorted Gallic tribes will forgive me for lumping them into the same sack. On balance, I’m also taking the wide-angle lens to the Italians: Sicily, Umbria, Liguria – I’m not going piecemeal on them.
Piperade is a vegetable stew of soft peppers and onions, with a hit of hot paprika. Pepperonata is a mix of softened peppers and onions, seasoned with saffron, sometimes with added aubergines (caponata). Both can be made with fleshy green or red bell peppers; serve as a base for poached eggs to create a Mediterranean version of shakshuka; dished out as a side for meat dishes, be mixed with pasta for sauce or spooned on crusty bread for brunch.
Are they the same thing then, a Spanish name for an Italian dish or vice versa? Not quite, it appears: the Basque (Spanish, French) dish is more picante, classically made with the variety of hot paprika called piment d’Espelette. The Italian equivalent is more piano, dolce, leggero. Is one better than the other? No way.
Interestingly enough, my Mum who was anything but a researching and adventurous cook used to make a piperade of sorts. Obviously without the required paprika, black pepper was exotic enough for my Mummy; and she’d stir in some eggs at the end, thus making a really nice breakfast toast topping. I only remembered it when I was researching my piperade so it is a throwback dish for me in a way.
NY Times Cooking first reminded me of its existence with their green pepper piperade recipe but I prefer red ones to make it: red peppers with red tomatoes seem a better match. NYT also instruct to cook the peppers away to a confit stage but I actually like them to retain a bit of bite, rather than cook down into red mush. Either way the flavour is what matters. It is a simple recipe and a simple dish (if Mum could do it…) but some of the best things in life are very simple.
piperadeServings: 4Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- 4-6 medium tomatoes
- 2 large red peppers, cored
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- a pinch of dried thyme
- ½ tsp piment d’Espelette (or 1 fresh mild chili, de-seeded and chopped plus ½ tsp mild chili powder)
- 2 tsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
1. Peel the tomatoes: score a cross in the base of each and plunge them into a pan of boiling water. Let them simmer for 30 seconds, drain and rinse with cold water. The skin should now peel easily.
2. De-seed the tomatoes and chop them roughly. Set aside. Slice the peppers thinly lengthwise into strips.
3. In a large skillet heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat and add the smashed garlic. Fry it for a couple of minutes until scorched on both sides. Remove from the pan.
4. Turn up the heat and add the pepper slices. Cook them on high heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove the peppers onto a plate.
5. Turn the heat down and add the other tbsp. of oil. Add the onion to the skillet, season with a large pinch of salt and cook for 10-12 minutes until softened but not coloured. (If you’re using fresh chilli, cook it with the onion.)
6. Add the chopped tomatoes, scorched garlic, thyme and piment d’Espelette (or chilli powder). Stir, cover and cook for 30 minutes over low heat. When the sauce is thick and the tomatoes have all broken down, add the vinegar and sugar; taste and adjust.
7. Return the peppers to the pan, stir and cover. Cook for 15 minutes until the peppers have wilted but retain shape and some bite.
8. Serve warm rather than hot; on fresh or toasted bread or as a side dish.