Piperade – is it a sauce, a dish with eggs…and how can it become a tarte Tatin?
“Piperade is a kind of very elegant scrambled eggs with red pepper, green pepper, onion and tomatoes. It is very simple, sauté the vegetables until they are soft and edible and then stir in a lot of eggs over a very gentle heat.”
-Bruce Copp with Andy Merriman, Out of the Firing Line into the Foyer
The basic piperade
In spite of what Bruce Copp says in the quote above, technically the eggs are not necessary. Originally piperade is a Basque dish (the Basque and Spanish name is piperrada) comprising onions, green peppers (not red ones) and tomatoes, with Espelette pepper (a slightly hotter-than-paprika pepper made from chillies grown in the French Basque region). Effectively piperade is a sort of pared-down, spicy ratatouille – and none the worse for that.
Egg, garlic, and ham or bacon are optional, and rather good, extras.
What can you do with piperade?
And it’s also endlessly adaptable.
- You can serve it, as Copp recommends in the quote at the top of this post, as a kind of elitist scrambled eggs
- you can also serve it more as a sort of shakshuka – with the eggs baked whole on top of the sauce.
- Or you can pair with eggs in a different way by serving it as a sauce on the side with a plain omelette fines herbes.
- It pairs particularly well with eggs, but it also goes well with bacon and ham – either in it or alongside.
- Or you can serve it as a sauce for plain, grilled white fish.
- You can even serve it as a sauce for pasta.
- You can, as suggested by Alexandra Vaagahu, on the Piment d’Espelette site, incorporate Bayonne ham into the mix, and make it into a kind of filling for a savoury Tarte Tatin – with a custardy sauce made of egg yolks, saffron, milk and a couple of spoons of this very special pepper.
What to do with leftover piperade
Leftover piperade can be used in any of the ways described above, or simply added to another sauce – a gravy, a stew, a tomato sauce, a romesco sauce, and to chilli con carne.
Refrigerating and freezing piperade
It keeps well in the fridge (the flavours meld) for up to a week; and, of course, you can also freeze it.
My favourite way to serve it is to adopt the shakshuka approach, with eggs baked into it, and prosciutto and freshly baked rolls on the side. Here’s what I do.
Recipe for piperade
- 1 onion
- 1 red pepper
- 1 green pepper
- 1 tin (400g/14 oz) good quality tomatoes
- 2 tbsps sundried tomato paste
- 1 tbsp thick balsamic vinegar
- Espelette pepper – or hot paprika, or Aleppo pepper…or even Byadgi chilli – about half a teaspoon, but to taste
- olive oil for frying
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
- 4 eggs – at room temperature
- prosciutto and two half-baked rolls
- Preheat the oven for the half-baked rolls, if you are using those.
- Peel and chop the onion, and fry gently.
- Meanwhile core and deseed the peppers, and chop them roughly.
- Add to the frying pan.
- Add the garlic to the pan.
- When the onion has become transparent – after about eight minutes of gentle frying, add the tinned tomatoes, and break them up with a wooden or silicon implement.
- Add the sundried tomato paste and the vinegar and stir well.
- Continue to cook gently for about five minutes. – If you are baking your half-baked rolls, this would be the time to put them in the oven. If it starts to get a bit dry add a little red vermouth.
- Make a well for one of the eggs using the bottom of a spoon to stop them running about over the piperade. Drop it into its hollow. Repeat for the other eggs. Cover the pan with foil and cook until the whites are opaque – ten minutes or so.
- Serve with the ham and the freshly baked rolls.
This post is an inside out post in that, rather than the normal quote, broadly about a dish, followed by a recipe, the quote at the head of this post pretty much is the recipe, and below I give some information about the unusual man who wrote it.
Out of the Firing Line into the Foyer, is an autobiography; but then most cook books are biographies. Some – excellent compilations such as #Cook For Syria, or Bread is Gold – are not. Many offer recipes as stepping stones of memories. Others are more memoir-with-recipes: Marlena de Blasi’s Thousand Days in Venice, or Kay Plunkett-Hogge’s Adventures of a Terribly Greedy Girl are examples of this. Lee Miller – a life with food, friends and recipes, by Lee Miller’s granddaughter, Ami Bouhassane, offers a wonderful visual memoir, cookbook cum scrapbook almost.
Bruce Copp’s life account contains just a few recipes, right at the back, but accounts of food, and working in the hospitality industry in the steamy sixties, and for an almost permanently inebriated theatrical clientele run through the narrative.
Where, I wonder, does a cookbook end and the biography begin?
About Bruce Copp
Bruce Copp was first a reluctant war hero and then subsequently went on to manage restaurants with strong theatrical connections. As Judi Dench comments in her foreword to Copp’s autobiography, “Bruce’s address book contains the names of more actors and actresses than Spotlight…” and indeed so does the book about his life.
Stories about food weave their way throughout the book – as a child he spent summers with his grandparents in Ilfracombe, and an elderly friend made “wonderful lardy cake and other specialities I’ve never had since, which probably explains why I am mainly in good health”. Much later he describes how he made up a dish called Smothered Steak Josephine in tribute to Lady Miles, and another dish called Mermaid Syllabub for Muriel Forbes, The Times theatre critic. This was broadly composed of cream, several tots of rum, and many prunes, “we must have wanted to keep our customers on the run” he recalls.
Copp is disarmingly frank, particularly about his war years. He describes being under fire, in a hopeless position, for over forty-eight hours and then says:
“I simply couldn’t take it any more.
We are supposed to be civilised human beings. How could this – firing guns at each other and blowing people up – be right? ….It didn’t feel like I was having a breakdown or being cowardly, I just didn’t want to be implicated in this brutality any more. I’ll die very nicely and get it all over with. It was a simple as that…..Even though I must have been a sitting duck, not one bullet found its target. I walked on unscathed until I heard the agonised cries for help of a wounded man”
Copp saves the man’s life and is rewarded for bravery in spite of his protestations.
And after the war he begins his career as a restaurateur, which included providing the catering for Peter Cook’s Establishment Club, frequented by Michael Caine, Jean Shrimpton, and the Kray twins.
In the sixties he co-founds Crispins (for more about this restaurant see my post on Chocolate Rum Cake) and the recipe…or more accurately, the concept for piperade (as he describes it in the quote at the top of this post) comes from a dish served there.