I was so excited to see this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe – Basque potato tortilla – because it evoked fabulous memories of the summer of 2008, where we happened to be in Basque country and were fortuitous enough to be there during the famous fêtes de Bayonne – a series of festivals in the Basque town of Bayonne, France. The fêtes start on the first Wednesday every August, last for five days, and are the largest of their kind in France. The town is all decked out in the regional colours of green and red. During the 1980s, “participants” started to dress in white clothing with red scarves and belts (the colours of Pamplona).
There are also mini “running with the bulls” (Course des Vaches) which involves what appear to be a huge number of inebriated men gathering together in one of the town squares to try to tap the bull’s horn. They have a number of strategies to try to keep the bull running in the direction they want it to, including everyone laying down on the ground to make a corridor for the bull to run though. Not entirely surprisingly, the bulls are not interested in going where people want them to go and the whole spectacle is quite amusing… No prizes for guessing here who was a part of this. Ahem. Mr Neil.
As I said, our stay in Biarritz coincided with the Fêtes. Not fully understanding just how HUGE this event was, we Googled excitedly to discover that one of the days we had planned to head up the coast to Bayonne, there was to be “Le Championnat du Monde d’Omlette aux Piments.” Huh? A competition for the best omelette in the world with peppers (the famous piments doux from the Basque country). So what’s the big deal with these peppers then?
According to this article on Suite 101 the pepper has been grown in the village of Espelette (in the foothills of the Pyrenées Atlantiques) since the 1500s. By the late 1700s the pepper was heavily influencing the cuisine of the area. It has even been granted an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) by the French govermnent which means that to carry the name of Piment d’Espelette it must be grown within one of the 10 listed villages in the valley and left to sun dry for a least 15 days. (According to locals, though, 12 weeks is best.) The peppers are harvested from mid-August onwards and are hand picked and sorted and then threaded onto long strings and left to dry naturally in the sun. The pepper is used at any stage of the drying process in different ways – fresh in cooking, as a paste or dried as a powder.
All this and a world championship of omelettes too? What could be better?? Right then… What to wear when partaking in the Fêtes de Bayonne? Why red and white, of course. We thought this was some kind of joke, especially when we heard this announcement on the radio: “Come dress yourselves for the Fêtes at Casino Géant”… And there we were a couple of hours later, purchasing our “oufits” at the hypermarché:
The competitors were getting set up when we arrived. We stood in the blazing sun and watched the progress. They covered it in foil to help it cook!
Once back in our lovely little rental property in Biarritz, we attempted to recreate the famous omelette aux piments with a bag of freshly purchased piments d’Esplette:
Later on we enjoyed some more refined fare by the sea-side in Biarritz… A Basque tortilla, in fact!
Basque cuisine, is very distinctive to its region but also heavily influenced by neighbouring Spain and “tapas” style meals are very common. We loved our stay in the Basque country and would totally recommend it to anyone. I would suggest if you are there during the fêtes, to perhaps stay outside Bayonne in one of the neighbouring seaside towns since it can get kinda crazy!
I had very fond memories of this trip and especially the food, so I was thrilled to try Dorie’s recipe. Especially as it included powdered piment d’Espelette, which, of course, we still have some of (you know, when you buy your red and white outfits, it’s good to pick up some groceries at the same time, right?).
This was a super easy recipe to make – you start with the potatoes on the stovetop, later adding the eggs to the potato mixture and then finishing it in the oven which created a gorgeous puffy cloud of eggy goodness! I made a small and a large version of this and found better results in my smaller frying pan (about 8 inches in diameter) – it was easier to make sure the bottom did not burn as the eggs cooked through.
Dorie’s recipe is vegetarian, however, with some leftover duck prosciutto from last month’s Charcutepalooza, we couldn’t resist!
A wonderfully simply, flavourful and healthy meal that you could whip after work or for brunch on the weekend. With a green salad, it’s perfect
French Fridays with Dorie participants do not publish the recipes on our blogs, rather, we prefer if you purchase the book for yourselves (trust me, you definitely want this book!) which you can do here on Amazon (great price right now) or here on Amazon Canada (it’s also on special!). Go on, treat yourself join us in 2011!
(the information about our trip to Basque country originally appeared on the Cheapoair travel blog)