I spent some time this evening threading today’s gathering of Espelette peppers onto strings so they could be hung up to dry. I’ve developed a method which seems to work – I thread some thin crochet cotton onto a bodkin, tie a loop with a knot into the other end and thread the peppers on by passing the needle through the thick ends of the stalks. I tie a simple knot between each pepper to keep them apart as they dry. When there are eight or nine on a string I make a loop in the free end of the thread and hang the strings around the kitchen. Because we have a very dry climate here they dry well and in a few months’ time will be ready to grind in an old coffee grinder (after removing the seeds to save for next year’s crop). Eight of them make enough paprika to fill a small jar. The summer’s crop keeps us in paprika through the winter – we’re still finishing last year’s. Of all the varieties of pepper we grow these seem the least susceptible to being eaten by bugs and snails – maybe they don’t like the peppery taste!
Some I did earlier: the darker ones are last year’s dried peppers, the brighter red ones are from earlier this summer and are partly dry now. As you can see I labelled them ‘Espelette’ although really they shouldn’t be called that as they weren’t grown in the village of that name in the French Basque country which has an appellation d’origine controlée for its peppers. I bought a string of them in the village a few years ago and since then have saved seeds each year from the ones we’ve grown. I think this variety makes the best paprika – spicy but not too hot.
On yet another rainy day, Lo Jardinièr and I talked as we were eating a lovely lunch of pizza left over from yesterday when he made it, accompanied by a salad of grated carrot (not from the garden) and slices of green and yellow pepper (from the garden). As we often do, we remarked on how easy it is to make delicious food so long as we have certain basic essentials in the store cupboard and fridge.
There are ingredients we would never be without, some of which are so essential I haven’t included them in the photo: rice, pasta, the tomato purée we make at least 50 jars of every summer and which last us through the winter and spring until we have fresh tomatoes in the garden again……salt and pepper too, of course. But apart from these, here are a few others: capers (although when I can find them I prefer the salted ones to these in brine); anchovy fillets; olive oil (of course); raisins or currants; chorizo; garlic (again, of course!); piments d’Espelette or other paprika peppers, fresh or dried); lemon; black olives; bay leaves (and other fresh herbs as available in the garden, thyme, rosemary, basil…..). Even if we have no other meat or vegetables we can always make something tasty to eat with these.
And as I write this I remember other essentials we almost always have in the cupboard: red and white wine, tinned chickpeas and haricot beans, tahina, walnuts, spices – coriander and cumin especially – and so much else. But these in the picture are the basics.
For the photo I put all these in a dish which for me is another essential as it’s been in my family almost as long as I can remember. It was made in Sicily and my mother bought it in Benghazi soon after we moved there in the 1950s. She passed it on to me after she had used it many times especially, as I remember, for rice salads when we had big family parties.
We’re still picking a few piments d’Espelette for drying and grinding to make paprika, but it’s nearly the end of the season for them.
Goats' cheeses from Mas Roland
And in a few weeks’ time cheese production will stop for the winter at La Ferme du Mas Roland. These cheeses I bought today are a mix of fresh (1 day old), demi-sec (3 days old) and cendré (rolled in ash). I made salads for the first course of our supper tonight with some of our last tomatoes, chopped red and yellow peppers and the fresh goats’ cheese.
Fresh goats' cheese salad
Our main course was a foretaste of winter: pumpkin risotto garnished with crisp-fried lardons and sage leaves.