Arne and I traveled to Portland for Thanksgiving this year. While the family festivities were near the coast, of course we had to fly into Portland – previously covered on this blog as my favorite food city. And while we were there, naturally we had to try a couple of new restaurants.
We had breakfast one day at Tasty n Sons, which is locally famous for its incredible brunch. I foolishly forgot my camera, so I can’t show you any of the food, but – wow. We shared a number of small plates, including griddled dates with maple syrup and almond, Burmese red pork stew, Moroccan chicken hash with harissa cream and an over-easy egg, and chocolate-potato doughnuts served hot from the fryer that absolutely blew my mind. It was like an international tapas breakfast, and it was incredible. (Menu here.)
So we had to try the even more famous Toro Bravo, Tasty n Sons’ sister restaurant. Toro Bravo is dinner-only, and more classic in its approach to tapas. There was a 90-minute wait to get in – apparently not the slightest bit unusual for this extremely popular place. We spent the wait in the cozy jewel box of a lounge upstairs, Secret Society. Just as we were getting antsy, our table opened up and we squeezed into our tiny space in Toro Bravo’s noisy, busy dining room.
Since we were dining with two members of Arne’s family who love food as much as we do, we got to try a dizzying array of dishes. One of our companions is a vegetarian, so we stuck almost entirely to the vegetables on the menu. This was not a bad thing – in fact, I was grateful to have been led to dishes we might not otherwise have tried: the eye-opening seared cauliflower with cracked olives and salsa verde, the butter-braised turnips, and most of all, the Basque piperade – a smooth, earthy stew of roasted red peppers and tomatoes, topped with a duck egg. It was the very last thing to make it onto our order, and when we tasted its silky tang, we were so glad not to have missed it.
It reminded me of a simple bell pepper stew with eggs cooked in it that I used to make in grad school. The recipe, called Chakchouka, was from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, and though that was a much more rustic version, the experience made me suspect that I could reproduce the piperade fairly easily at home.
When I decided it was time to give it a try, I was delighted to find that John Gorham, the chef-owner of Toro Bravo, had supplied the piperade recipe to a website called how2heroes. I fiddled with it (of course) to make a slightly smaller amount and adjust it to my taste. The recipe was fairly simple to make, and very nearly as swooningly delicious as the restaurant version. It’s so deeply flavored that I recommend you save leftovers to use as a sauce – make a simple grilled chicken breast something special, or use it on pizza or pasta. Or stir into warmed cream cheese for an incredible, effortless dip. It would be a fabulous omelet filling as well. The possibilities are endless!
Basque Piperade (Red Pepper and Tomato Stew) with Eggs
Serves: 2 as a meal, 4 as a hearty starter Time: 2 hours Hands-on: 1 hr 15 min
4 red bell peppers
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 large (28 oz) can best-quality diced tomatoes (I use Muir Glen)
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh paprika (if yours is old, buy new!)
pinch cayenne or spicy paprika, to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
a hearty grind of pepper
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt, to taste
Crusty bread for serving
Roast the red peppers on a grill, over a gas burner, or in a 450-degree oven, turning regularly, until blackened on all sides. (This will take 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the method.) Place in a paper or plastic bag, or in a bowl covered by a plate, to steam until cool enough to handle, another 10 or 15 minutes. Peel with your fingers. The peel should come off easily, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all off.
Remove the stem, scrape out most of the seeds, and roughly chop. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a medium-large, deep skillet with a lid. (A paella pan is perfect.) Add the onions and saute 5 to 10 minutes, until very soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic and saute another minute. Stir in the bay leaf, paprika, cayenne, and pepper, and saute for a minute to bloom the flavors. Add the red pepper, undrained tomatoes, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to break up the tomatoes a bit, then adjust the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 25 minutes.
Turn off the heat and let cool slightly. Spoon most of the stew, including the largest chunks, into a blender. (The more you leave, the more texture your finished stew will have. I like a little texture. For a completely smooth stew, blend it all.) Blend until very smooth and silky. Return to the skillet, stir, and heat over medium until it returns to a simmer.
Use a spoon to make four hollows in the stew. Crack an egg into each hollow and cover the pan. Cook gently until the whites are completely firm and the yolks set how you like them, about 8 to 10 minutes depending on how hot the simmering stew is.
Serve in shallow bowls – or just put the whole skillet on the table and serve family-style – with warm crusty bread for dipping.
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