Though we have been traveling to France for decades, my husband and I had never visited the Basque country. We’d been to Burgundy, Provence, and Brittany, but the southwestern area of France that boasts the glorious Pyrenees and an exquisite coast line on the Atlantic remained unknown to us. So we flew into Paris last week, kept our bags packed, and took off for points southwest with our friends, Harriet and Philippe.
En route we stopped by St. Emilion in the verdant wine country, and took a quick tour of Bordeaux. Then we headed for St. Jean de Luz, a charming, old coastal town near the Spanish border. The quaint white-washed houses with their traditional rust or black trim caught our eyes as did the elegant cathedral located in the heart of town, where Louis XIV of France married Marie Thérèse of Spain in 1660. Next we crossed the border to Spain, traveling to Bilbao to see the magnificent Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry. We walked the cobblestoned streets of San Sebastiàn, another town nestled in a protected port. After winding through the mountainous terrain dotted with Basques farms, we had a light lunch in Biarritz, a ritzy resort town, favored by Russian nobility in the late 19th century. It is still redolent of the belle époque.
Along the way we sampled delectable local food—a butter-rich Basque tart filled with cherry preserves, tapas that included fried mild guindilla peppers plus platters of chorizo, and a café dish of marinated pork cutlets à la plancha (cooked on a hot plaque or grill).
Back in Paris I made my own version of the delicious pork using thin tenderloin slices. Seasoned with smoked paprika and cumin, they were pan-fried and topped with piperade. A Basque specialty, piperade is a colorful mix of bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions scented with piment de l’Espelette (a spicy red pepper powder similar to cayenne). Add some saffron rice and mixed greens tossed in a sherry wine vinaigrette, and you can savor the Basque country of France and Spain too!
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Sautéed Pork Tenderloin with Piperade
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-in pieces
2/3 cup yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/4-in pieces
1 tbsp minced garlic
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered lengthwise, but not seeded
2 to 3 tsp sherry wine vinegar
4 tbsp olive oil plus more for sautéing if needed
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (See market note.)
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/4 lb pork tenderloin, cut on the diagonal into 1/2 inch thick slices
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
1. For the piperade, heat 3 tbsp olive oil until hot in a large, heavy skillet set over medium heat. Add the onion and red and yellow bell peppers. Cook, stirring, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cayenne pepper, and 1/2 tsp salt; stir and cook 1 minute more. Remove from heat and stir in the tomatoes. Gradually stir in 2 tsp sherry vinegar; taste and add 1 tsp more vinegar, plus salt and cayenne if desired. (Piperade improves in flavor when made1 day ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat until hot, 3 to 4 minutes.)
2. For the pork, place a few pork slices on a work surface and cover with plastic wrap. Using a meat pounder or a rolling pin, pound them until they are about 1/4 inch thick. Repeat with remaining slices. (See cooking tip.) In a shallow bowl, whisk together the olive oil, smoked paprika, cumin, and salt. Pat the pork slices dry with paper towels, then brush on both sides with the smoked paprika mixture.
3. Heat a large, heavy nonstick skillet set over medium high heat. (If not using a nonstick skillet, coat the bottom lightly with olive oil.) When skillet is very hot add enough pork to fit comfortably in a single layer. Sauté until the pork is golden brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes, then turn and repeat until golden brown on the other side and cooked all the way through, about 2 minutes more. Remove to a plate and cover loosely with foil. Continue to cook the remaining pork in this way, adding more oil to the skillet if needed.
4. Serve the pork topped with some piperade and with a sprinkle of parsley. Pass extra piperade in a bowl. Serves 4.
Market note: Spanish smoked paprika, called pimenton, is available in gourmet food stores, in some groceries, and on line from Penzey’s at www.penzeys.com. There is sweet (dulce), medium-hot (agridulce), and hot (picante). For this recipe use the sweet (dulce).
Cooking tip: When using a meat pounder to pound the pork, bring it down and just as it comes into contact with the meat, push the pounder outwards making a sweeping motion. This will help flatten and spread the flesh and prevent it from tearing.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2015