Piperade is a classic Basque dish made with sweet bell peppers, onions, olive oil and most importantly…patience. The slow process of making piperade is worth the long wait. For a dish that’s completely meat-free, it has a remarkable savouriness and an intense depth of flavour. Not to mention the natural sweetness of the onions and peppers that is enhanced by the long cooking time.
There are various different ways to do this, but one thing is beyond debate: you must remove the skin from the peppers. If not, you’ll have nasty stringy bits ruining the texture of the dish. At Castle Terrace, we had to peel the peppers before slicing and cooking them, which is painstaking and fiddly process. An easier and more conventional method is to roast the peppers, cover them and allow to cool before easily peeling off the skin.
The basic method is as follows: finely slice the onions and sweat slowly in olive oil for 3 hours. Then add the finely sliced peppers and continue sweating slowly for another 3 hours. Much of the intense flavour in this dish comes from the slowly cooked onions, so make sure you cook for the full 3 hours to get them really dark and sweet.
You can pair this with many things - it’s a very versatile garnish. It goes particularly well with lamb, however. For this recipe, ask your butcher for a boned and rolled leg of lamb.
- 1 leg of lamb, boned and rolled
- 6 medium onions, finely sliced
- 4 red peppers
- 2 yellow peppers
- 2 green peppers
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 handfuls baby spinach
- vegetable oil, for frying
- a little sherry vinegar
When the lamb is ready, put in on a rack to rest for 10 minutes or so, then finish the piperade. Finely slice the baby spinach and add to the peppers and onions. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Finish with a little touch of sherry vinegar. Carve the lamb, and place on top of the piperade in wide bowls.
To cook the lamb: get a large, heavy based frying pan and place it over a high heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of oil and wait for it to get hot. Season the lamb all over with salt and pepper and sear it in the pan, turning every couple of minutes or so until nicely caramelised all over. Place in the oven for 10 minutes, then turn over and cook for another 10 minutes. At this point, check the temperature using a skewer: insert the skewer into the middle of the lamb and wait for a few seconds, then press it to your lip. If it’s barely warm, it needs longer. Keep turning and cooking it until the middle feels hot but doesn’t yet burn your skin when you touch it to your lip. If it’s scorching hot, you’ve overcooked it! If you want to use a temperature probe it should be around 58C.
Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, take them from the bowl and carefully peel the skin from them. They should be roasted enough that the skin comes off quite easily. Tear the peppers into pieces, removing the core and all the seeds. Finely slice them, and add to the pan with the onions once the onions are ready, along with another pinch of salt. Continue to cook on a low heat for another 3 hours. It should be caramelised, dark and intense.
Meanwhile, get a large pot or casserole dish and add the olive oil. Place over a medium heat and when the oil is hot, add the onions along with a generous pinch of salt. Cook at this temperature for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. When the onions are soft, turn the heat to low and cook for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until the onions are dark, intense and sweet. At this point,remove your leg of lamb from the fridge to come up to room temperature.
Set the oven to 190C. Place all the peppers in a roasting tray and cover tightly with foil, then place in the oven for about 40 minutes, until they are softened and you can see the skin starting to wrinkle. Transfer to a bowl or another tray and cover tightly with cling film. Leave to cool.