Can Piment d'Espelette Come from California? (That's a Trick Question!)

Review of Piment d’Ville, a great Piment d’Espelette-style powder from Boonville, California. In short, this less-expensive alternative to Piment d’Espelette is every bit as wonderful as its French counterpart.

J’adore Piment d’Espelette, that captivating bright-red spice powder made from ground chiles grown only in and around the town of Espelette in France’s Basque region. (Read my ode Piment d’Espelette here.)

Funny thing is, although it’s named after a town in France, the piment itself is not native to France. Instead, 16-century explorers brought it back from Mexico and South America; but, it seems, the pepper grew well in France, and the Basques knew a good thing when they tasted it.

And so, when Kendra McEwan, a spokesperson from Piment d’Ville, a Boonville, California, company that’s making an Espelette-style spice powder, reached out to me, I was all ears.

After all, why couldn’t you make a powder outside of Espelette, especially since the piment is native to our shores? Of course, you can’t call it Piment d’Espelette (since that’s a name-controlled designation*), but why couldn’t it be just as good, if the piments grow well and you know how to grind them?

Kendra and Nacho (the farmer) harvesting the piments in Boonville, California.

Spokesperson Kendra McKwan and farmer Nacho Flores show off the harvested piments in Boonville, California. Photo by Mary Zeeble.

Kendra sent me some samples of Piment d’Ville, and now, I’m a fan.

The piments are grown from the seeds of the Espelette peppers, so they’re the same variety of peppers in my beloved French spice. They’re ground pretty much like the Piment d’Espelette powder (from France) that I have on my shelf—that is, it’s a coarse powder with a few flakes. The California powder had a few more slightly larger flakes, but that’s great by me. I love the visible texture it gave to my dishes.

The flavor? Frankly, if I were blindfolded, I’d have a hard time telling the difference. Going back and forth and back and forth, I decided that the French product was vaguely more bitter, and the California powder was a titch more fruity. But I’m talking very miniscule differences.

Piment d’Ville is also a little less expensive. I found it on Amazon for $9.99 a jar (versus $13.50 for the French product).

Want recipes for Piment d’Ville? Check these out: Just use Piment d’Ville wherever I call for Piment d’Espelette.

Want more? Here’s an inspiring, beautifully shot short video about Piment d’Ville that tells you all about the passion behind this great spice.

Disclosures: I was sent samples of this spice for this review. I have not been compensated in any other way. In addition, I’m an Amazon affiliate, which means that any product you buy through one of my links will help support this website (without adding to your costs whatsoever). Thanks for your consideration.

 

* If you, like me, love geeking out such things: Piment d’Espelette is an AOP product….Now, don’t go to sleep on me here. AOP stands for “appellation d’origine protegée,” and simply means that, by law, no one can call their piments “Espelette” piments unless they’re grown in that very specific Espelette region. Lots of European products have these strictly controlled AOP designations (Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, anyone?). So, to make a long story medium, Piment d’Espelette cannot technically come from California. But a great product made from exactly the same variety of peppers can. And it’s called Piment d’Ville.

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It's Pipérade Season!

UPDATE: Since writing this post, I’ve discovered Piment d’Ville, a fabulous California-made version of Piment d’Espelette, a hallmark ingredient to Pipérade. You can use Piment d’Ville wherever I call for Piment d’Espelette. Read my review of Piment d’Ville.

It’s ratatouille season, but if you’re ratatouilled-out, here’s another great thing to do with all those beautiful bell peppers popping up right now at farmers markets: Make pipérade, of course. This French Basque specialty is so easy to make–and it goes beautifully with many proteins. Here’s how to make piperade—and how to use Piperade, too.

One of the many ways to serve Pipérade: With a French Rolled Omelet

Like Ratatouille, Pipérade defies categorization. Is it a side dish? A relish? A sauce? An appetizer? Indeed, I’ve enjoyed Pipérade in many ways in the Basque country. I’ve seen it served over a slice of ham, alongside grilled fish, and simply spooned over roasted chicken. However, this sweet, fresh sauce is especially tailor-made for eggs—I give some serving suggestions, below.

Note: If you truly can’t find Piment d’Espelette powder, a combination of smoked paprika and cayenne will do. It won’t be exactly the same, but it will be good.

However, if you’re a passionate cook, you should probably know about Piment d’Espelette, and try it at least once in your life! Here’s a post I wrote about it, including other recipes that use it. Find this fascinating fruity-spicy ground chile wherever great spices are sold. Amazon.com also sells Piment d’Espelette.

Update: Piment d’Ville—from California—is just as good and a little less expensive.

Pipérade
Makes 4 servings as a side-dish/relish (about 2 1/2 cups total)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into very thin strips
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into very thin strips
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced (in winter, you can one 14-ounce can diced tomatoes)
2 teaspoons piment d’espelette, or 1/4 teaspoon mild paprika plus a dash of cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bell peppers and onion and cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds more, or until fragrant. Add tomatoes (don’t drain them if canned) and piment d’espelette. Simmer until the piperade thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

You can serve the piperade now, in its chunky form. However, if you want a smoother piperade, cool the mixture slightly, then pulse in a food processor until desired thickness (a saucy mixture with chunks of red and green pepper is especially nice for egg dishes). Reheat if needed, then serve.

How to Serve Pipérade:

  • Tuck a scant 1/2 cup warm Pipérade into a French Rolled Omelet, page 299 of The Bonne Femme Cookbook.
  • Top fried or scrambled eggs with warm Pipérade.
  • Use in Baked Eggs with Pipérade (page 303 of The Bonne Femme Cookbook).
  • Use as a sauce for a soufflé (try my foolproof Cheese Soufflé with Pipérade, page 308 of The Bonne Femme Cookbook)
  • Spoon warm Pipérade over slices of ham as a main course. Serve with Any-Night Baked Rice
  • Serve aside a slice of baked ham or grilled or roasted fish.

Refrigerate leftovers Pipérade for up to three days. In the unlikely event that you have some left after three days, freeze it and add it to the next chili you make.

PS: Here’s a video of me making Pipérade on KCWI-23’s “Great Day” morning program. Enjoy!

You can find Piment d’Espelette at specialty spice shops or on Amazon.com. Or, try Piment d’Ville, a truly great California version.


Disclaimer: As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a very small credit when you make a purchase through a link I provide (even if you don’t buy exactly what I’m writing about!). Purchasing through one of my links helps support my work on this blog. Keep in mind, I’d never recommend a product I didn’t love. Thanks so much.

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How to Make a Swiss Chard Salad

French Swiss Chard Salad. Photo by Richard Swearinger

French Swiss Chard Salad. Photo by my pal Richard Swearinger

Although Swiss Chard is available year-round, it comes into peak season both in the spring and the fall—and I’m seeing all over the place. Take advantage! It’s a great veggie, with sturdy and crinkled emerald-green leaves and stalks in a rainbow of colors. Its flavor crosses spinach with a subtle taste of beets–so if you love beets, but don’t really feel like peeling and boiling them, Swiss Chard is for you.

Here’s my recipe for a sparkling Swiss Chard Salad, plus a little story about how I discovered this dark leafy green.

Chicken, Swiss Chard, Apples, Blue Cheese, Pistachios—a fabulous salad for right now.

Chicken, Swiss Chard, Apples, Blue Cheese, Pistachios—a fabulous salad for right now.

How to Make a Swiss Chard Salad

First, here’s my easy recipe for Swiss Chard Salad. By the way, one of my readers on my facebook page said that she omitted the chicken for a side-dish salad, and it was great. If doing that, I might add more blue cheese!

PS: Can you remember the first time you ever had Swiss Chard? I sure can (see my little story after the recipe).

French Swiss Chard Salad with Chicken, Apples, Blue Cheese, and Pistachios
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 1¼ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing the chicken
  • 4 ounces Swiss chard leaves, coarsely shredded (discard tough stem ends)
  • 1 large sweet-tart red apple, such as a Honeycrisp or Braeburn, cored, and
  • sliced
  • ¼ cup crumbled blue cheese, such as Point Reyes or Roquefort
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachio nuts
  • 1½ tablespoons Balsamic Vinetar
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and brush them lightly with olive oil. Place the chicken breasts in a shallow baking dish and bake until the internal temperature registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 20 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes or so.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the Swiss chard, apple, blue cheese, and pistachio nuts in a large bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  4. Using two forks, shred the chicken into bite-size pieces. Add the chicken to the chard mixture and toss to combine. Add the vinaigrette and toss again to combine. Divide the salad among four shallow bowls and serve.

My Swiss Chard Discovery

In May of 1998, Dave and I flew into Toulouse; our plan was to tool around the Southwest of France before heading to our rental apartment, reserved for the month of June, in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, on the French Rivieria.

We had a lovely time in the Southwest, but as we made our way east, we both came down with major head colds. Worse still, the forecast was for rain throughout Provence and the Côte d’Azur. Less-than-enthused about tooling around in the rain, but with three days before we could get into our vacation rental, we looked for a place we could hole up and nurse our colds.

Sospel. A cozy mountain town and a fine place to hole up when you're feeling under the weather.

Sospel. A cozy mountain town and a fine place to hole up when you’re feeling under the weather. Photo credit.

We landed in Sospel, a rustic mountain town about 1 1/2 hours into the Maritime Alps from Nice. What we failed to realize was that it was a French bank-holiday weekend, and nearly every hotel in Sospel was booked….

AubergeProvencal

L’Auberge Provençal, Sospel. These days, gets great reviews on Trip Advisor. In 1998, it was an aging old inn, though spotless and charming.

 

….except an aging, down-at-the-heels Logis de France inn, located on a hill outside of town. We snapped up the last room, even though the room had no shower or toilet–just a bed, a desk and a sink. The toilet was down the hall. The shower? There was none available for our room. Not even down the hall. (Some other rooms that had showers, but those rooms were all booked.)

Dining Room at the Auberge de Provence, Sospel.

Dining Room at the Auberge de Provence, Sospel.

We thought we’d left the toilet-down-the-hall days behind when we finally tossed the Europe on $20 a Day guide we used in our post-college backpacking trip in the 80s.

Still, we had no choice but to take the room for three nights.

As it turns out, the charming inn had just what we needed: A comfy bed, with reading lamps on each side, and crisp and clean sheets underneath fluffy comforters. We spent three days recuperating, reading books and taking naps while it drizzled continually outside. We’d drink hot, soothing tea and tisanes that we’d take turns fetching from the dining room downstairs. Our little room had a view of Sospel out our window down the hill; it was one of the coziest three days we’ve spent in Europe. I can hardly remember being sick.

On the first floor of the inn was a dining room that was oddly stately for such a run-down hotel. The restaurant’s menu offered the kind of simple, rustic food that remote France does so well. According to my diary, the choices for the first course included mortadella (yes–just a few slices of mortadella with bread and butter), a trio of salads (aka crudités–a beet salad, a carrot salad, and celeri remoulade), a soup of the day, and something called tarte de blettes.

Every time I make my Swiss Chard Tart (above), I think of cozy old Sospel.

Every time I make my Swiss Chard Tart (above), I think of cozy old Sospel.

The patronne explained to me that the latter was a little like quiche. But she couldn’t really tell me what blettes were.

I ordered the dish, which was indeed quiche-like: a buttery crust topped with a dense tangle of sauteed greens held together by an egg and cheese filling. It was more about the greens and the buttery crust than the egg–which seemed mostly a binder.

I was immediately smitten with the vegetable–the flavor of the green was reminiscent of spinach, but  deeper and slightly bitter. For three days, we ate dinner at the hotel, and chard must have been in season: I ended up enjoying something that had chard in it for all three meals–including a sort of minestrone soup with chard in it and a luscious side dish of creamed chard.

Monday rolled around; the sun came out and we felt infinitely better. We headed to Beaulieu, with a newfound appreciation of Sospel. And Swiss Chard.

Wherever you happen to be, give this leafy green a try–and let me know if you like it as much as I do.

From rainy Sospel to sunny Beaulieu, but with a new-found appreciation for Swiss Chard.

From rainy Sospel to sunny Beaulieu, but with a new-found appreciation for Swiss Chard.

If you enjoyed this mini-travel story, you might enjoy a few others:

Where to Stay on the Riviera: Might I Suggest Menton?

Learning to Love Where You’ve Landed (a story about not loving, then loving Montpellier)

Things I Miss Most about French Food and Dining

• What to Cook in a Small French Kitchen

• My Kind of Wine and My Kind of Town: Chinon

 

If you’d like to help support this site, simply go to the Amazon hrough one of my links or banner ads (such as the one below). No matter what you buy, I’ll get a small commission from your purchase. Thanks for your consideration.

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