Every autumn for the past three years has found me dicing snaky sweet peppers and cooking them slowly in extra-virgin olive oil. The result is a condiment that brightens everything it touches. It’s simple – just peppers and oil without the encumbrance of garlic or herb or other spice. Why? Because the peppers have a range of deep flavor that concentrates as they cook slowly in the oil, giving a pure, perfect flavor.
Peppers aren’t a Norman specialty. But for Baptiste Bourdon, my farming alter-ego, they have become what the French call one of his “produits phare,” or specialties. He sells the peppers individually as though they were jewels, and clients treat them as such, setting them gently in their baskets out of harms’ way.
Baptiste grows several pepper varieties and the one I like best is the thin, long, curly Doux des Landes (solanaceae Capsicum annuum). An expat in Normandy, it comes from the Landes, in southwest France, but it grows so well in Baptiste’s field that I wonder if it’s a happy accident of global warming.
I eat the peppers every way, from raw to sautéed, pureed, and in this condiment, which I use constantly. The other night I layered it with baked eggplant; I drizzle it on fresh goat cheese, slip it under the skin of a chicken before I roast it, dollop it on freshly steamed fish. This morning it was my butter substitute on toast. Sometimes I blend it with minced garlic and basil, or add a sprinkling of Piment d’Espeletete to make it spicier. I love having it on hand, and it keeps well as long as it’s covered with oil.
If you cannot find the specific pepper called for, you can try this with a simple red bell pepper. You may not get quite the fine dice, but you’ll get a mouthful of flavor no matter what.
Pepper Confit – Confit de Poivrons
1-1/2 pounds (750g) red peppers (Doux des Lands, Corno di Toro or Sweet Nardello
varieties are ideal, or red bell peppers ), trimmed, all pith removed, cut into very small dice
1-1/2 cups (375ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
1. Place the peppers and the oil in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When bubbles start coming up in the oil from the bottom of the pan and the oil is just about at a simmer, reduce the heat so the oil stays that way, and cook until the peppers are tender, without allowing the oil to boil, about 25 minutes
2. Remove the casserole from the heat and let the mixture cool, then store it in an airtight jar.
About 1-1/2 cups (375ml) of peppers in oil