Serves 4, for a Sunday-evening supper, say, or as a first course
This is a favourite combination of three delicious ingredients: eggs, ham and peppers. It origin-
ates in the very south-west of France, in the Basque region, with some of its influences quite clearly coming from just south of the border in Spain.
2 thin slices Spanish serrano ham, or Parma ham
2tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, finely sliced
1 small red pepper (the long, pointy sort mentioned above would be perfect), grilled or roasted, peeled, de-seeded and finely chopped
8 very fresh eggs, beaten
2-3 small tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 scant tbsp snipped chives
A little salt and a generous pinch cayenne pepper
4 slices country bread, liberally brushed with olive oil and then grilled until golden
Rub a film of olive oil over the surface of a large, non-stick frying pan. Place over a low flame and lay the slices of ham neatly in one layer. Allow to slowly become crisp on the underside, then flip them over. Once the ham has become almost translucent, and has released some of its fat, remove to a paper towel to drain and cool. Put to one side.
Add the olive oil to the same pan and add the sliced garlic. Cook it very gently until the edges are just beginning to gild, then immediately tip in the peppers. Stir for a few moments before pouring in the eggs. Quietly allow them to scramble and, when about half cooked, stir in the tomatoes, chives and seasoning.
Once cooked to your liking-I believe they should be soft and a touch loose in texture carefully pile onto the bread. Finally, break up the ham into small shards and crumble them over the eggs. Serve without delay.
Possibly the best loved of all Italian pepper dishes, introduced to me by Elizabeth David in her groundbreaking work Italian Food, published in 1954. The publication date itself remains astonishing-and is, by coincidence, the year I was born. This is how I make my peperonata.
4 large tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
4-6tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 large onions, thinly sliced
4 large red peppers, or 6 long, pointy ones (as mentioned above), seeds and membranes removed, then thinly sliced
Place the tomatoes in a stainless-steel pan with a little of the olive oil and lightly season. Place on a low heat and allow them to quietly stew for about 30 minutes, uncovered, until thickened and pulpy. Place a sieve over a bowl and tip in the reduced tomatoes. Using a ladle, force the tomatoes through the sieve to produce a smooth sauce. Put to one side.
Pour the remaining olive oil into a solid-based, wide, stainless-steel saucepan and place over a moderate heat. Add the garlic and, stirring occasionally, slowly allow it to faintly gild before tipping in the onions. Raise the heat slightly and, regularly stirring, cook the onions for about 20 minutes until they flop down, soften and are just beginning to colour.
Now, add the peppers, stir everything together and pop a lid on. Simmer ever so gently, stirring from time to time, until the peppers have wilted and soft-ened, for a further 20 minutes or so. Finally, stir in the tomato sauce and, without the lid, cook the mixture vigorously over a high heat for about a minute, so that the peper-onata is transformed into a rich and tasty stew of peppers, onions and tomatoes.
Decant into a suitable shallow serving dish and allow to cool to room temperature. Finally, trickle a little more olive oil over the surface and serve up with some crusty, rustic bread.
Simon Hopkinson is the founding chef and co-proprietor of Bibendum restaurant, London