piment d'espelette

Fall is looming...at least in my mind. I don't know what that means for you, but for me it means deliciously painful pangs of desire to travel. I still had one special momento from my September trip to my favorite grocery store in the world: a jar of Espelette pepper puree. As often happens, I'd been saving it for a special occasion, but since I hope to go back in a couple months I decided to make a regular old lunch a trip down memory lane.
Piment d'Espelette is a unique pepper from the French Pays Basque that is a culinary legend. It's a beautiful, longish red pepper with a perfectly piquant bite. It has been a culinary specialty of the village of Espelette since it found its way to France in the 1500s. It has the same AOC protections as champagne, as well as a festival in its honor in late October. The most celebrated appearance of the Espelette pepper is in piperade, a pepper stew of sorts. But it is included in chocolates, hams, as decoration, dried and ground into powder...just about every way you can imagine. The puree I brought home was so beautifully bright and amazingly tasty...perfect on my eggplant sandwiches and even more perfect slathered on some bread with a hard sheep's milk cheese. It's definitely earned permanent place in my return suitcase.