By Wini Moranville
Before the days when you could order just about anything on the Internet, Piment d’Espelette was one of those delicacies I packed in my suitcase when coming home from France. Now, however, you can get it at Allspice (400 E. Locust St. in the East Village).
This powdered spice, made from a specific variety of pepper grown in and around the French Basque town of Espelette, is so well-respected that it has received the hallowed AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) status, which means that unless the piments are from this particular region, it can’t be called Piment d’Espelette.
What makes it so special? In terms of spice level, these piments aren’t blazing hotties by any means. Rather, they bring a more gentle spiciness, as well as an intriguing fruity angle. (BonAppétit.com identifies the flavor as somewhat peach-like, with sea-brine qualities and a “nuanced, subtle heat.”)
Nuanced? Indeed–no wonder the French like it.
The next time you serve a side dish of buttered or olive-oiled pasta, toss in a little Piment d’Espelette to intensify the flavors. I also like sprinkling it over twice-baked potatoes. The spice is especially tailor-made for eggs: Try adding it to the weekend’s scrambled eggs, or sprinkling it on deviled eggs.
If you truly want to enjoy it the way the Basques do, make my Piperade, a dish of onions, tomatoes, and green and red bell peppers that goes beautifully with fish, chicken and above all, eggs (serving it on or in an omelet equals a slice of bright Basque heaven).
Yes, the spice is pricey ($14.25 for a ¼-cup jar), but I’ve found that it’s just as expensive in France. Happily, a little goes a long way.