Piperada (Basque Eggs) & Ajo Blanco (White Gazpacho)

July 10, 2009

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.
~William Blake

The Tour has moved beyond the fluid team time trial in Montpellier, down the coast to Barcelona and has now begun the up the crucial mountain ascents in the Pyrenées into Andorra. Here, the wheat begins to separate from the chaff in the peloton. The sprinters and time trial specialists who mastered the relative flats in earlier stages will now hit the proverbial wall in the mountains while the seemingly indefatigable climbers take center stage.

With its deep canyons, folded mountains and virid upland meadows, the breathtaking Pyrenées form a natural geographic border between France and Spain, separating the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of continental Europe—leaving the independent principality of Andorra sandwiched in between. A rugged, yet supple range. Even if you do not share my regard for the cycling world, it is worth following the coverage for the eye-popping scenery alone.

The Tour organizers classify mountain stage climbs by number based upon difficulty, ranging from category 4 (easiest) to category 1 (hardest). The most arduous climbs are so agonizingly steep, they are considered beyond category, or hors catégorie (HC)…suited only for even the most tireless mountain goats.

Categorizing climbs has both objective and subjective components. There is consistency for the most part, but no hard and fast rules. The length of the climb, the gradient, and where the climb is positioned in the stage are the most common variables considered. The elevation of the climb’s summit and the width and condition of the road are sometimes taken into account.

But, back to food. As we get a last whiff of Spain in this Tour, it seems only natural to add some more tapas (pinchos or pintxos in the Basque Country) to the table.

Piperada, a sauté of multicolored peppers and garlic of Basque origin has a close French cousin called Pipérade (often sans tomatoes)—a condiment which has broad use with eggs, fish, poultry, and pizzas. Ajo Blanco is not some nouvelle creation. Rather, this almond, garlic and grape gazpacho is the Andalucían ancestor of red gazpacho, the renowned tomato based cold soup. Remember, tomatoes were not brought to Spain until discovered by explorers in Peru and Mexico in the New World, so ajo blanco was the forerunner of the red variety which has become so modish.

PIPERADA (EGGS BASQUE STYLE)

4 T extra virgin olive oil
2 small yellow onions, peeled and finely diced
3 Anaheim peppers, stemmed, seeded and sliced into thin strips
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced into thin strips
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 slices serrano ham, cut into strips
2 medium tomatoes, chopped

See salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
6 organic, free range eggs

Sheep’s cheese, such as Idiazabal or Manchego, thinly sliced
Sliced baguettes

Preheat oven to 400

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium high and sauté the onions, peppers, and garlic until tender. Fold in the ham and tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook until almost done as they will cook some with the eggs later.

Place cheese slices on bread and place in oven until melted.

Reduce heat to medium low and whisk the eggs together. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the eggs over the vegetable and ham mixture and cook until the eggs are thick but still soft. Serve eggs with cheese topped baguette slices on the side.

AJO BLANCO (WHITE GAZPACHO)

3/4 C lightly toasted almonds
2 plump cloves fresh garlic, peeled and smashed
2 C white seedless grapes
1 C white grape juice
1/2 C water
1 t sea salt
2 slices baguette, crusts removed and torn

1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
2 T sherry
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Mint, for garnish

Red and white seedless grapes, sliced in halves for garnish

Place almonds, garlic, grapes, grape juice, water, and bread in a blender and purée by bursts until fairly smooth. Do not overblend the mixture. Strain the contents through a fine sieve into a bowl and discard the solids. Chill the soup in a covered bowl for at least 1 hour.

Remove soup from refrigerator and fold the whipped cream into the soup with a few tablespoons each of the sherry and olive oil. Place four grape halves in the bottom of each shallow soup bowl. Ladle the ajo blanco into the bowls over the grapes at the table. Garnish with a couple of mint leaves in each bowl.

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