When you visit French Basque country, you can't miss the piment d'Espelette. In autumn, bright red bunches of peppers drape out of windows and hang off balconies throughout the region. Once the pepper has been dried - a process that takes more than two weeks - there's a place for it in just about every food. It's rubbed onto hams as they hang to cure. It's stirred into stews, whisked into sauces, sprinkled on fish or greens. It's even added to chocolate, both for drinking and in bar form.
Though the Basques like to say that you need to have been raised under the hot sun of southern France to withstand the heat of the peppers, piment d'Espelette is actually pretty mild. A pinch of it adds a subtle, spicy kick along with a sweetness similar to roasted red bell pepper with charred skin.
A must-have for authentic Basque cooking; excellent for just about any recipe that calls for dried red pepper flakes.