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Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition

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Written by Carolyn Jung   
Thursday, 14 May 2009

Photo by Maren Caruso © 2009
If you've ever had the pleasure of dining at Chef Gerald Hirigoyen's two San Francisco restaurants, you know how utterly soulful his food is.

At both Piperade and Bocadillos, you won't find food that's piled high into a pyramid on your plate, accented by the latest foam, or looking all too painstakingly precious. No, what you'll dig your fork into is food cooked with honesty, passion, and gutsy flavors that reflect his Basque heritage.

That's also what you'll find in Hirigoyen's newest cookbook, "Pintxos'' (Ten Speed Press). For the uninitiated, pintxos (pronounced "PEEN-chos'') are the Basque country's answer to Spanish tapas. Dig into a few different types alongside a carafe of wine. It's a fun way to dine out with friends, and as Hirigoyen shows, it's also a great way to entertain at home.

In this book, he adapts 75 pintxos for the home kitchen. They range from traditional ones such as "Warm Toasted Bread with Tomato Spread and Serrano ham'' and "Sausage and Guindilla Pepper Skewers'' to more Cal-Asian-inspired ones such as "Spicy and Sweet Chicken Wings'' made with Vietnamese fish sauce, fresh ginger, and Sriracha chile sauce.

Since I'm admittedly a fiend for condiments, the recipe for "Chicken Thighs with Spicy Basque 'Ketchup' '' caught my eye immediately. It couldn't be simpler to make.

You start by sautéing the piperade, the iconic Basque stew of sweet peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Add piment d'Espelette (a dried red chile powder from the French Basque region with a complex sweet-hot flavor) to taste. I found that 1 teaspoon seemed about right. Then you puree it.

The chicken thighs are seasoned with just salt and pepper. They're seared in a pan, before getting tucked in with the pureed sauce to cook on the stovetop. The recipe says to cook for about 10 minutes until done. But I found it took more like 20 minutes for mine.

Transfer the chicken to a pan and put under the broiler to crisp the skin. Spoon some of the puree or "Basque ketchup'' on serving plates, then top with a chicken thigh. A pinch of fresh chopped parsley over the top adds the crowning touch.

The thick, deep red sauce did not disappoint. It really made the dish with its addicting sweet-tangyness. It's so divine that my husband now wants to spoon it on anything and everything, including hot dogs, burgers, and meatloaf. Let me tell you, Heinz has nothing on this stuff.

I'm already thinking of serving this dish at my next dinner party. It may just be chicken. But believe me, chicken never had it so good.

Read more of what Carolyn Jung has to say about Pintxos on   

Chicken Thighs with Spicy Basque "Ketchup"    

Reprinted with permission from Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition by Gerald Hirigoyen with Lisa Weiss, copyright © 2009. Published by Ten Speed Press.

It is the addictive sauce that makes this dish special. Sweet from the peppers and brown sugar, spicy from the piment d'Espelette, and tangy from the vinegar, the sauce is easy to put together, can be made in quantity (this recipe makes three-quarter cup but can be increased easily three or four times), and is good with everything from these chicken thighs to eggs and fried potatoes.    Serves 4

  • 4 skin-on chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground
  • black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 heaping cup Pipérade, pureed
  • 2 teaspoons piment d'Espelette
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Preheat the broiler.

Sprinkle the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat a sauté pan over high heat until hot. Add the olive oil and warm it until it ripples. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the skin is golden brown. Using tongs, turn and cook on the second side for 3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Transfer the chicken to a plate and discard the oil.

Return the pan to high heat and add the brown sugar, whisking until it melts. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sherry vinegar. Return the pan to medium heat and whisk the mixture for about 1 minute, or until it has thickened and reduced. Stir in the pipérade and the piment d'Espelette. Return the chicken to the pan, cover, decrease the heat to low, and cook for 10 minutes, or until the thighs are cooked through.

Transfer the chicken, skin side up, to a broiler pan and broil for about 2 minutes, or until the skin is crisp.
To serve, spoon a pool of the sauce on each warmed plate and top with a chicken thigh. Sprinkle with the parsley.

To Drink: The Navarre region is in north-central Spain, and its food is strongly influenced by the Basque Country, which borders it. Most of the grapes grown there are Garnacha, and though it was long thought of as the region of rosadas, or rosés, its reds are gaining in popularity. A spry, light, fruity Navarre red, served slightly chilled, is ideal here.  L D F


Reprinted with permission from Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition by Gerald Hirigoyen with Lisa Weiss, copyright © 2009. Published by Ten Speed Press.

Pipérade is basically a stew of sweet peppers and onions and is the quintessential dish of the Basque country.

Makes 3 cups

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut lengthwise into ¼-inch-wide strips
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut lengthwise into ¼-inch-wide strips
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed or thinly sliced
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into rough
  • 3/4-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • Piment d'Espelette

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high until hot. Add the olive oil and warm it until it ripples. Add the onion, bell peppers, garlic, and tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened and have begun to color. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Season to taste with salt and piment d'Espelette before using, and then use immediately, or store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

About Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition

ImageAcclaimed chef Gerald Hirigoyen's sophisticated and delectable small plates, served at his restaurants, Bocadillos and Piperade, set the standard for tapas in San Francisco. This book features 75 distinctive California-inflected versions of Spanish tapas and French Basque dishes (including Salt Cod with Piperade, Roasted Beets with Moroccan Spices, and Oxtail Empanadas with Spicy Mango Dip) specially written for the home cook. Conveniently organized by type of dish--grilled, soups, braises, skewers and toasts, sandwiches, bean dishes, and fried foods--and illustrated with the exemplary photography of James Beard award-winning photographer Maren Caruso, PINTXOS is all you need to host an authentic and stylish tapas party at home.

Available at

Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.


Last Updated ( Saturday, 16 May 2009 )
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