When I given my bottle of Piment d’Espelette, I checked it out online…and found out that there was a competition being run by the local producers’ association (English version here) to come up with new dishes. So…prepare something original. For a critical audience who don’t know me. In French. Dangerous enough?
To enter, there were obviously a few rules to observe: it had to use Piment d’Espelette (duh!), it should be quick and easy to prepare, it should be original, and it should be something that could be prepared on an average family budget. I sent my applications in on Friday night, so I’ll just have to sit tight and see what happens.
To come up with something, I sat down and did a bit of logical thinking. The producers are in the Basque part of France, so some sort of raw vegetable dish was out of the question. These people are likely to prefer a rich, meaty dish for the main course, so my best chances were in the starter or dessert category. So a starter that showcases the Piment d’Espelette…got me thinking about chutney. I reasoned that the Piment d’Espelette would work well, so that the subtle heat would pervade the sauce and mingle with the apple, without dominating. Plus, the flecks of red would show up in the chutney. Next question: what can I serve with a semi-sweet sauce? I thought about goats cheese. And bingo! My entry is a simple cheese fritter coated with a breadcrumb/Piment d’Espelette mixture, gently cooked until golden and crispy, and served with a simple, fresh apple chutney. That was the theory…
Et alors…the chutney. This was super-easy – chop the apples, throw everything in a pot, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Done! On its own I think it is great. It’s a deep burnished amber colour and the Piment d’Espelette does indeed show up as hoped. It’s got heat, but it never gets too much. I am modestly calling this an unmitigated success. I had a little left over after my test, and I’ve been munching it on strong English cheddar as my 11am snack for the past week. Really delicious.
The fritters? Again very simple. The coating was just flour, breadcrumbs and Piment d’Espelette. The goats cheese is rolled into balls, flattened, dipped in egg and coated, and then shallow-fried. I figured this dish would provide a nice series of contrasts – crisp coating, creamy cheese, soft fruity chutney.
Happy with the theory, I made them and duly noted everything down. I’ve got to say, the result was pretty darn good. You need to be really generous with the chutney, but I think the spiciness and gentle heat worked well with the cheese. It’s a nice combination. Let’s see if the competition judges agree!
For the chutney:
• 4 apples, peeled, cored, chopped into small pieces
• 100ml white wine vinegar
• 50g sultanas
• 1 1/2 teaspoons Piment d’Espelette (or paprika or very mild chilli powder)
• scant pinch of curry powder
• scant pinch of cinnamon
• scant pinch of nutmeg
• scant pinch of cloves
• 50g sugar (or to taste)
• 1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds (black onion seeds)
Put everything into a pot. Bring to the boil, simmer until the mixture is thick an the apples tender (around 30 minutes). Feel free to tweak the spices according to taste.
For the fritters:
• 300g of goats cheese (firm chalky type)
• 50g of plain flour
• 50g of breadcrumbs
• 1 teaspoon of Piment d’Espelette
• 1 egg
• 100ml of oil and 25g of butter, to fry
Divide the cheese into portions – 15 smaller fritters, or 8-10 larger fritters. Roll into balls and flatten to 1cm thickness.
Mix the flour, breadcrumbs and Piment d’Espelette in a bowl. Beat the egg. Dip each piece of cheese in the egg, then roll in the flour mixture. Leave to sit in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Before cooking, roll the cheese again the flour mixture. Heat the oil and butter in a pan, and fry the fritters until golden on each side. This goes very quickly (2-3 minutes). Serve warm, with a generous portion of cooled chutney.
Worth making? Yes. The chutney is really simple and delicious, and the fritters are easy to make. These also make a great canapé. Alors, à vos fourneaux!