Sunday, 10 April 2011

piperade

do you want war first or food first? maybe do war and get it out of the way? ok? good.

just over twenty years ago, the war started. i say 'the' war because for me there is only one war that matters (not so for anyone older than about 65). and i say ‘started’, although wars don't really start like that, not in a clean, precise way that giving them a date would indicate (like first day at school, or christmas holidays).

the weird thing is, croatia had been on fire for a year and we, a couple of hundred miles down the road, behaved as if nothing was going on. i've said it before but it's true: we’d watch the fighting on telly like it was beirut or tel aviv or any of those places we associated with wars, tv reports of tanks on dusty roads and men with kalashnikovs and scarves around their heads.

we knew there’d be no trips to dubrovnik that year and that we wouldn’t be visiting zagreb any time soon. but those people fighting in slavonia or shelling dubrovnik? they had nothing to do with us. we saw refugees from croatia at university but they were ‘normal’ and in our ignorance (arrogance), it may have crossed our minds they had lost homes or suffered but we didn't treat them as if they had. we treated it as if they'd just chosen to move (as if you'd abandon zadar or sibenik in january, in the middle of the school year, to come to sarajevo!).

some of the people at uni had fought in croatia too. denis from prijedor, who smoked incessantly and exhibited a nice collection of nervous twitches and distant looks, told us stories about vukovar and watching his best mate getting blown up in a tank ahead. he was into guns’n’roses and he wrote ‘i don’t need your civil war’ on the inside cover of the notebook i took with me when i left home (to revise, thinking we'd be back in a week or two). i found his tall, spiky handwriting years later living in a miserable house in birkinhead with a bunch of fuckwits, and it choked me for days.

we used to stand huddled in groups smoking cigarettes in echoey concrete hallways of the philological faculty in sarajevo, talking about how “croatia” - a prematurely-given synonym for the worst kind of civil war bloodshed imaginable - could never happen in bosnia. we'd say it with that strange excitement people get when they feel themselves to be a part of some disaster, something newsworthy. (for that feeling to be delicious and sublime, the disaster has to be proximate enough to be scary but distant enough to have little direct bearing on your life. like watching a car crash from behind the wheel of your own untouched vehicle). little did we know we’d end up being headlines for 3 years of every news bulletin on every channel. a

and now food. i know piperade looks like a plate of cat sick on some rocket leaves. or even human sick. but it's a breakfast of champions or, if you think eating vegetables for breakfast is weird, lunch. it's a good way of making something a bit more filling out of some eggs.

you can make it as easy or as complicated as you like. i've made it with peppers from jars and with the ones i've grilled myself. also with tinned and real tomatoes. having said that, it would of course work best with some great summer produce - that's when you'd really notice how amazingly simple and delicious it is.

it's not a quick recipe, i grant you - though using jars/tins will shorten it.

PIPERADE
for four
2 tbs olive oil
2 red peppers
1 green pepper
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
400g peeled and chopped plum tomatoes - i usually don't bother peeling
a pinch of chilli flakes
a sprig of thyme
6 eggs

peppers first. you need to massage them with oil and then either grill them under the grill, whack them straight onto an open flame if you have a gas cooker (maybe skewered on metal skewers for ease of turning but be careful because they get very hot), or use a griddle pan. you want them all chargrilled and soft. when you think they're done, let them cool just a little and then put them in a plastic bag or in a bowl covered with clingfilm. they steam a little, making them easier to peel. discard the seeds and stalks, peel the skin and cut them into pieces.

peel and slice the onion thinly. stew gently in olive oil, then add the garlic and cook until they're soft but not coloured. be patient - i think the onion softening always takes longer than you think. now add the peppers and tomatoes, season with chilli flakes and thyme, and cook for about 15 minutes until the moisture has all but evaporated.

break the eggs into a bowl and whisk. add to the pan with peppers and tomatoes and stir over gentle heat until the eggs are scrambled. taste and season. serve immediately, maybe over some ham or with salad.

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