Like French kitchen flags, Jean Vier dishtowels are all about Basque cuisine in the south of France: black cherry conserves from Itaxassou, anchovies, tuna and sardines from the Atlantic Bay of Biscay, chocolate and ham from Bayonne and espelette peppers from the village of Espelette.
Basque country straddles the border between France and Spain on the Atlantic coast, but is different from either country. The cuisine of this area as described by Cedric Bechade, chef of the Michelin star L’Auberge Basque in St. Pee sur-Nivelle is distinctive: “The French Basque culinary tradition is adventurous, naturally elegant, simple, and generous. So are the people,” he says. “It’s why I love it here. That, and the fact that the resources—produce, meat and, and seafood—are some of the best you’ll find in France.” Béchade credits the geography—“that fortuitous head-on encounter of fertile, mountainous farmland and Atlantic coastal plain—for providing the raw materials.”
Inspired by the colorful l’Axoa dishtowel hanging on the oven door, I decided to try the dish, a Basque ragout. Here’s the recipe to share, from Richard Rogers blog, AubergechezRichard, September 2011.
L’Axoa – Basque Ragoût
(pronounced atchoa) Serves 4
2 lbs veal (shoulder cut will do or be creative and improvise)
2 large onions
1 large red pepper
8 green chilies (or 4 hot/4 mild or 2 hot/6 mild or 8 hot -get the idea?)
4 garlic cloves
Piment d’Espelette in powder form (substitute with Spanish Paprika and red pepper powder)
1/4 – 1/2 lb of smoked ham (optional)
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup white wine or so
1 cup of veal or beef stock
olive oil (if not using the ham lard as lubricant)
Cut veal into cubes, dice your onions, slice red pepper and chilies into strips.
Heat your pan then add your cubed pieces of ham and as the fat starts melting add your chopped onions sweat them until they talk; add in the veal cubes. Cook for 10 minutes or so.
Add your sliced pepper and chilies strips, bay leaves, piment, thyme, chopped garlic and mixed well.
Add in the white wine and a slice of dried “piment d’Espelette” and reduce.
Add your beef or veal stock, reduce and cook gently covered for 20 minutes. Season with salt as needed.
Add a little bit of corn starch if needed. News flash: We are still not eating bay leaves so remember to remove them before serving unless you’re preparing someone’s last meal.
Serving suggestions: Boiled parsleyed potatoes, simple and sure.
** Post Mortem – Holy piment Batman this was incredible and super easy to put together. I have half the dish left over for tonight and I know it’s going to out perform last night. I was out of veal for some reason so fell back on a trusted poulet. Perfect. I was hungry and willing to overlook a minor discrepancy.
If you’d like to sample Basque cheese, try a sheep’s’ milk or brebis cheese like Ossau Irraty, a rich gouda-style mountain cheese made for 4000 years by Basque monks, or Abbaye de Belloc, also a sheep’s-milk cheese and look for a jammy black cherry preserve to accompany the cheese.
Bayonne, capital of French Basque country is reputedly the most attractive town in southwest France. Famous for its chocolates and cured ham, jambon de Bayonne, the town is surrounded by medieval fortifications and has the longest tradition of bullfighting in France.
Created in the village of Saint Pée sur Nivelle in the heart of Basque country, Jean Vier linens are closely linked to Basque life, as well as reflecting the culinary heritage of the area. Originally created from the linen grown by local farmers, Basque linens were originally used to protect cattle from the sun: large rectangular linen cloths were embroidered with seven blue, green or red colored stripes, symbolizing the seven Basque provinces, and fastened on the animals.
Today’s vibrant, colorful dishtowels,tea towels and aprons are jacquard woven of 100% cotton. Practically speaking, they last forever, machine wash well, and can be tucked under a belt as an impromptu apron, or used as a small table cover. They would also make original pillow covers for a kitchen sofa.
Stop in to see the collection of towels and sample a little Ossau Irraty cheese for a Basque moment at Zucchini and Vine.