Friends from Brussels were staying last night and brought a fantastic present from the south of France – Piment d’Esplette or Espelette pepper, a specialty from the northern part of the traditional Basque country.
It comes in a cute retro jar and looks like coarsely ground paprika, but the aroma is much richer, like earthy, smoky roasted peppers. The flavour is sweet and tangy, warm rather than hot – paprika with punch. They suggested adding it early on to a slow-cooked tomato sauce, so I’ll give that a try. I’ve also had a look online at what this is used for. The producers run a great website in French (only at the moment), with a few recipes (several vegetarian, to my surprise), ranging from starters through to desserts. A little digging shows that this stuff is enthusiastically used in all manner of dishes – on meat, fish, in sauces, jams, pizzas, mustards, mayonnaise and chocolates. This spice also has the prestigious AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) status, so only peppers of the right variety from a designated local area can carry the name.
This sort of thing is one of my favourite gifts to give and to receive – unique little pieces of local culture, and the sort of thing that can bring back memories of a holiday or a place in flash. I like to keep an eye out for local ingredients when I travel as they all make welcome additions to the kitchen. I’m looking forward to using this in a few dishes soon!