Basque Cooking + Microlit

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Basque Cooking

with Sophie Masson Featuring microlit from the #100Words4Butterfly competition



French-Australian writer Sophie Masson is the award-winning and internationally-published author of over sixty books for children, young adults and adults. She holds a PhD in Creative Practice from the University of New England and in 2019 she received an AM award in the Order of Australia honours list for her significant service to literature. In this ebook, you’ll find some delicious Basque recipes inspired by Sophie’s childhood and the journey of the characters in her latest book, A Hundred Words for Butterfly, released by Spineless Wonders Audio. It’s now available at all good audiobook retailers. You’ll also find some great fiction by Australian writers who entered the #100Words4Butterfly competition, inspired by the themes in the audiobook.






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BASQUE ENTREES I’m introducing four simple dishes that can function either as snacks, entrees, lunch dishes or even grace a pintxo table if you want (pintxos are the Basque version of tapas). And by the way, don’t let anyone tell you that pintxos are ‘Spanish’–they are found on both sides of the French/Spanish border, just like the people who make them, because they are Basque! I’ve made all of these very recently and the photos are all my own, so you can see they are definitely home-made. All are very simple, very quick, and and very tasty! By the way, they all include a sprinkle of piment d’Espelette–great if you can obtain some, and I recommend it for that characteristic Basque taste. But you can certainly use good hot paprika if you don’t have any piment handy.




Ingredients (serves 4): • 6 garlic cloves, peeled • Olive oil • Chicken or vegetable stock • Salt • Piment d’Espelette • Thyme, chopped • Bay leaf • Eggs (1 per person) • Slices of bread, to serve Method: 1. Cook the whole peeled garlic cloves in olive oil till they are golden 2. Add the hot stock, salt and a sprinkle of Piment d’Espelette, chopped thyme and the bay leaf. 3. Cook, uncovered, for 30 mins. 4. Crack the eggs into the soup to poach them. 5. Fry the slices of bread and cut up to make croutons. And serve!


MUSHROOMS WITH GARLIC Ingredients: • Ceps, forest mushrooms or field mushrooms • Butter • Garlic, crushed • Salt • Herbs, chopped • Piment d’Espelette

SIMPLE BASQUE SALAD Ingredients: • Lettuce leaves • Bayonne or Serrano ham, sliced (or sheep’s milk cheese) • Red/green capsicum, roasted and sliced • Olive oil • White wine or cider vinegar • Piment d’Espelette • Optional: tomatoes, artichokes and asparagus


Method: 1. Slice mushrooms finely 2. Cook mushrooms in a little butter for about 2 minutes 3. Add crushed garlic, salt, some chopped herbs—whatever you have on hand (I used basil) and a sprinkle of Piment d’Espelette.

FRIED SARDINES Ingredients (serves 2): • 3 fresh sardines (whole, gutted and boned or ready-prepared fillets) • 1 egg • Flour • Salt • Piment d’Espelette • Lemon or vinegar to serve Method: 1. Beat the egg, dip each sardine in it then into the flour, making sure it’s all coated 2. Fry till done. 3. Serve with a sprinkle of salt, the Espelette pepper, and either lemon or vinegar.



Pintxos (pronounced ‘pinchohs’) are the Basque version of tapas. They are very popular in the Basque country (and beyond!) San Sebastian, just across the Spanish border, is renowned for its pintxos bars but there are lots of popular pintxos bars in the French Basque country too, especially on the coast, in my mother’s family’s stamping ground of Biarritz, Bayonne, Anglet, St Jean de Luz etc. And people make them at home for parties, family gatherings etc. They are pretty hearty and a plate of assorted ones can constitute a real meal! Pintxos differ from tapas in that they are always served on bread (usually slices of baguette in the Basque country), with a toothpick holding down the topping (actually ‘pintxo ‘ literally means ‘spiked’). The toppings will often feature Basque staples such as tomatoes, ham, eggs, capsicums, fish, cheese, etc, but can be as simple or complicated as you like, and there’s no one right way to do it: it’s totally up to you what you do! Just the bread and the toothpick are the basics. Piment d’Espelette of course can add that authentic touch! With most, brushing the bread with a bit of olive oil first is a good idea.

Sophie 10

Here are some ideas for simple Basque-inspired toppings to get you started: • Roasted capiscum with marinated squid/octopus; • Semi-dried tomatoes with soft goat’s cheese and a dab of cherry jam on top (the combination of cheese and cherries is very popular in the Basque country) • Black olive tapenade with Serrano-style ham or salami • Green olive tapenade with half a boiled egg and a sprinkle of piment d’Espelette or paprika • Grilled or barbecued prawns on cooked spinach • Marinated sardines or anchovies with caramelised onion • Mix of roasted vegetables (e.g. capsicum, tomato, eggplant--or your choice) with roasted garlic


A X OA In a scene from A Hundred Words for Butterfly, my characters are in the charming village of Espelette and sit down to enjoy a very classic local dish: axoa (pronounced ‘atchoa’). Traditionally served on market days, this simple and delicious Basque stew was popularised in Espelette, and in fact in recipe books is often called ‘axoa d’Espelette‘. This dish really highlights piment d’Espelette and in my previous post I indicated where you can easily buy it, but as I mentioned, hot paprika (non-smoked) will make a reasonable substitute (note that sweet paprika is too mild, and smoked paprika really doesn’t taste anything like the piment). The axoa really benefits from cooking ahead and letting it rest—for instance, you could cook it at lunchtime but serve it at dinner time. Even cooking it an hour or so ahead of serving and letting it sit will enhance the flavours. But don’t despair if you don’t have time–it’s excellent even if you don’t have time to cook ahead! This recipe is my version of axoa, with a twist on tradition. Not only do I provide a vegetarian as well as a meat version, I use green capsicum (bell pepper) instead of the more traditional long pale green pepper (mild variety). Red capsicum however is a traditional part of the stew. And together they look just right, highlighting the traditional vibrant Basque colours of red and green! In the quantities given, the recipes each serve 3-4 people. (‘Axoa’ by the way means ‘chopped’ in Basque, referring to the meat).



Ingredients common to both versions: • 1 large onion • 3 cloves garlic • 1 red capsicum • 1 green capsicum • Olive oil • Chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, bay leaf) • Piment d’Espelette • Salt, • 200 ml water or stock Other ingredients for meat version: 500 g diced veal (the traditional meat for this dish) or pork (which also goes well, in my experience), or 500 g minced veal or pork. Chicken could also be used. Other ingredients for vegetarian version: 150 g soaked beans. I used black-eyed beans as they don’t take too long to cook (and we grew them!) but you could also use Lima beans (butter beans) or white haricot beans. Also, a bit of extra vegetable stock to cook the beans. If you are making the vegetarian version, cook the beans in stock first till they are at least three-quarters cooked, before adding to the basic mix to cook more. 1. Chop your onion, garlic and herbs. Deseed and dice the red and green capsicums. 2. In a pan, cook the onion, garlic and capsicums in olive oil for 15 minutes then add the diced meat or the part-cooked beans, add the herbs, salt, and dash of piment d’Espelette. 3. Reduce the heat and add the water or stock and cook at low heat, lid on, for about 45 minutes. The meat should be very tender but not falling apart, ditto the beans, and the sauce should be thick and reduced. 4. After you turn off the heat, let the stew sit for as long as you can, before reheating, adding another sprinkle of piment d’Espelette, and serving with boiled potatoes or rice.





This gorgeous but easy-to-make fish soup originates from the fishing port of St Jean de Luz, in the French Basque country, but is popular all over the Basque coast. You can find it in restaurants and in homes—everyone has their own version. My mother, who came from Biarritz, had her own, and this recipe is inspired by her gorgeous creation. And like all ttoros, it features the ‘magic ingredient’ of the Basques: piment d’Espelette, which comes from the lovely hills farms around the picturesque small town of Espelette, 24 kms inland from Biarritz. This delicious red pepper powder has a unique flavour, both warmly spicy and piquantly sweet and fruity, which is the reason why this traditional Basque spice has its own AOP appellation in France (the peppers can only be grown in the area around Espelette). Its gorgeous colour also imparts a beautiful red to the soup. You can easily obtain it online: in Australia, order from the Culinary Club or The Essential Ingredient. However, if you can’t get piment d’Espelette, use a god hot paprika (non-smoked). It won’t be quite the same, but it will still be pretty nice.



T TO RO S O U P Ingredients (serves 2) • 1 medium onion, chopped • 4 cloves garlic, sliced • Olive oil • 2 tomatoes, chopped • 1 red capsicum, chopped • Salt • Piment d’Espelette or paprika • 3-4 cups pre-prepared seafood/fish stock • 2 fish fillets, cut into pieces (your choice of fish) • 8-10 prawns, peeled and cooked • A bit of any other seafood you fancy: eg mussels, squid, scallops, etc or marina mix Method: 1. In a good-sized pan, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil till starting to soften. 2. Add the tomatoes and capsicum, stir, add salt and half a teaspoon of piment d’Espelette or paprika, and leave to cook for about 5-6 mins with lid on. 3. Then pour in the hot stock, and allow to cook at a simmer for a further 5-6 mins, to absorb the flavours. 4. Then add the pieces of raw fish, and cook for 2-3 mins. 5. Add the rest of the seafood, including the prawns. Cook for about another 2-3 mins, at a simmer. 6. Sprinkle more piment d’Espelette in. Taste, add salt if necessary. 7. Then take off stove, and serve with bread! The soup also keeps well overnight in the fridge—you can eat the delicious leftover soup, heated up, the next day!




The ttoro always does seem to vary in colour, ranging from deep yellow right through to bright red: and all delicious!

- Sophie 17


It’s probably the most famous dessert in the French Basque country, and is known simply as ‘Gateau Basque’. In A Hundred Words for Butterfly, my characters enjoy a slice or two of it more than once! Rather than a ‘cake’ as such, the Gateau Basque is a pie with a yummy buttery, eggy pastry, filled with a lovely egg custard flavoured with rum. There’s also a less common black cherry-filled version in some areas of the Pays Basque which are known for their cherries. Today, the pastry sometimes incorporates almond meal as well as flour, but it’s more traditional not to use it, as almonds are not a traditional part of Basque cooking. But it’s up to you! Found on family and celebration tables and in every patisserie across the region (with people flocking to the best examples of it in town and village patisseries and fervently discussing the relative merits of each!) it’s both simple and utterly delicious, a real treat to make and to eat!

Sophie 18

Ingredients for the pastry: • 300 g self-raising flour (or plain flour with one teaspoon baking powder), • 125 g unsalted butter (chopped into pieces), • 220g caster sugar, • 3 egg yolks, • grated zest of one lemon

Method (Serves 6-8): 1. In a bowl, tip in the flour, make a well in the centre, add the chopped butter, the egg yolks, and the lemon zest. (Also add in baking powder now if you are using plain flour). Mix thoroughly, working the pastry into an elastic, homogenous whole. (You can add a little water—a very small amount!– if you have trouble making it stick). 2. Let the pastry rest for about half an hour. 3. While the pastry is resting, mix the egg yolks, flour, sugar and rum in a bowl. 4. Heat the milk to boiling point. Pour the hot milk onto the egg mix in the bowl, stirring the whole time. 5. Tip the mix into a saucepan, and heat carefully, stirring as you go, till the mix is nicely thick. Do not let it catch. Turn off the heat, let cream cool. 6. Divide the pastry into two parts, roll out each of them to make two circles. 7. Butter and lightly flour a springform cake pan, lay one of the pastry circles on the bottom, then put in the thick, cooled cream. 8. Put the second circle on top, crimp the pastry edges together so cream is completely hidden. 9. With a fork, score the top of the cake (without going right through), brush with a little reserved egg white and put in a hot oven for 30 minutes.

For the custard cream: ¼ litre milk, 25 g plain flour, 60 g sugar, 3 egg yolks, one tablespoon rum



This competition invited writers to create 100 of their best words, whether that be micro stories, poems, songs, etc, around intriguing writing prompts: Pilgrimage; Fork in the Road; Blast from the Past; and Confession. All the prompts gesture back to themes/motifs in A Hundred Words for Butterfly by Sophie Masson. These are the judges’ favourites!


Afghanistan The Band-e-Amir bus to Mazar-i-Sharif was slow, and full of farting men tall, turbanned bodies folded into seats too small to hold them. Under woollen vests I glimpsed ornate carved butts of pistols tucked into azaarbands. It was Ramadan, a year before the Russians, and nothing Silk about this stony Road. I longed for chai. In a valley, lush and green, a river flowing, boys with ruddy faces rushed the open windows, selling nests of sweet fresh figs kept cool beneath a quilt of leaves. Today, I watch the TV news: the guns, the roads, the boys, ripe fruit.

Christine Hill


Who what where why and when It was at the airport that her past caught up with her. Sitting at the juice bar, trying not to get wheatgrass in her teeth, another delay was announced. Five hours! Her outrageously expensive sandwich curled itself into a new level of stale. Having done her best to remain in perpetual motion to evade the past, becoming who and what she wanted to be, where she was right now offered no escape. Why? Always the hardest question to answer especially when you’re backed into a corner and can no longer avoid facing yourself. Arna Radovich

RSL Reunion Our 20-year high-school reunion. Our local RSL. Gerald arrived first. An extra 30 kilos and 3 kids. Dani was still loud. She remembers when Gerry spewed orange juice through his nose in class. She doesn’t remember that the orange juice went all over me. As she tells the story now, she swings her arms back laughing, spilling her mimosa all over me and Gerry. Gerry starts laughing and spews beer from his nose. The dark spurts of colour match the carpet. I hear the pokies go off. Some lucky bastard has won. But not as lucky as me.

Marcus Memmolo



Black Coffee When I was in high school, I thought it made me look cool. I’d watched ‘A nightmare on Elm Street 3’ more times than I could remember, and every time a character imbibed that dark and bitter drink, I was overcome with envy at how they seemed instantly tougher than me. It was clout I had to have; at any cost. It took me three weeks to learn to drink it without grimacing, and another two to finish an entire cup of the stuff. Everyone thought I was cool; and though I confess I never liked it, it was worth it.

Susie Q. Finn


The unrecorded confession She stood where her husband had fallen. A terrible death. At least she hoped it was. A helicopter got him out, trust him to grab his hour of fame. She’d stayed till everyone had gone, watching as seagulls demolished their picnic. He’d got in first, that irked her. She’d wanted to push him over but the silly sod had tripped as he’d approached the edge. She was furious. She screamed and stamped her foot. She screamed again at the top of her voice, all the way down, still standing on the piece of cliff that had given way. Jean Dennis

A fastidious outing The takeaway coffee tasted lukewarm and bitter so when I tripped on the uneven footpath, I was glad the polythene cup fell to the ground spilling its unloved contents. I did however manage to awkwardly regain my balance before I too hit the ground. People walking by gave me cursory and curious glances. The way I was dressed obviously did not impress everyone. A man wearing a tight miniskirt, red lipstick, and high heeled shoes to boot in public is still not that acceptable. The complexities of life I amusingly thought, continuing proudly with my walk but now empty handed. Sharon McIntyre



The supermarket conundrum The plastic bag stretches. Spread open like a dilated cervix. Impregnated with frozen peas and carrots and corn. Swipe, beep, swipe, beep; sounds the familiar conveyer belt harmony. She wants to know if I want to keep the bread out. Can’t you decide for me? I am not the expert in tangible goods. I no longer make decisions. I once chose him over that job offer in Amsterdam. My Saturdays are now a ground hog day consisting of grocery shopping and trips to IKEA. Swipe, beep, swipe, beep. She leaves the bread out.

Monique Holton


Two roads I laughed when I spotted it from a distance. Literally, a fork in the road. Yet, as I approached, the glinting metal resolved itself into that relic of sixties weddings: a Splayd. I plucked it gingerly from the bitumen, wary of the sun’s bite, but the low hanging clouds had tempered its spicy kick. Morsels of marinara / puttanesca / bog-standard Bolognese stubbornly clung to bent tines. Maybe it wasn’t such an insta-worthy pun after all. I dropped the utensil and wandered on because it was greasy and wanted nowhere. “And that has made all the difference.”

Alison Clifton

Champagne problems How does one approach the task of making an impossible decision? With champagne, of course! There was nothing some sweet bubbly couldn’t fix, or at the very least lighten the mood with. Today I was offered a promotion of sorts. Take over the company I worked for as their new CEO, kicking my boss to the curb… or refuse and put us all out of a job. Yes, stepping up as CEO seemed like the right move – but truthfully, the idea of having that kind of responsibility was suffocating. I was content with where I was; apparently others weren’t.

Keighley Bradford



Fresh bread Certain smells remain from childhood. I grew up on a farm outback. Couple of times a week mail would be delivered. Plus two loaves of unsliced bread from the local bakery wrapped in brown paper and tied with jute string tagged with the farm’s name. Delicious smell. Freshly baked bread, Mum’s butter and her fig jam for lunch. It was mainly that smell that drew me back to that tiny rail junction town many years later. Got there. Bakery gone. Railway station bulldozed. No café. Stale sliced bread beetroot sandwich at the pub. Drove home. Stale beer in my nostrils.

Anthony Sevil


Waiting I sit on my balcony and eat green tea ice cream Thinking of Japanese poets On pilgrimage to the interior of the Japanese north To visit temples and shrines and people, A journey both interior and exterior To perform the unfolding practice Of paying attention to the moment And creating spiritual accounting as poetry. My pilgrimage is to sit on my balcony And contemplate my plants, To witness their growth. My five geranium cuttings Travelled through the post Surviving their pilgrimage north to me, Already smelling of pepper. Now their leaves are translucent with sun. Some unfold Faster than others. Marie Dustmann

Pilgrimage On hearing we’re from Darwin, the Black ex-Marine says he was posted there. “Eww – Vegemite!”, he grimaces. He’s started a tour guide business in Natchez, Mississippi. Wants visitors to hear more about Black history than dutiful acknowledgement that slaves built the antebellum homes. We’ve reached the last stop. In 1940 a famous jazz bandleader came to the Rhythm Nightclub. A fire went off like a bomb; a generation of Black youth burnt. An unmarked mass grave was hidden by weeds until 2012. There’s a headstone here now, on the scraggly grass. Take a photo, he says. Share it on Facebook. Liz Bennett 27

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AVA I L A B L E NOW at all good audiobook retailers

It was meant to be the experience of a lifetime, for Australian twin sisters Helen and Alex Dorian, to walk the famous Camino from Saint Jean Pied de Port in the French Basque country, to Santiago del Compostella in Spain. But Helen injures her leg on the very day they arrive in Saint Jean and has to stay behind in the town while Alex goes on alone. A disappointed Helen tries to make the best of things and keep up with Alex via phone calls and blog posts, but it’s not easy. But an unexpected meeting with Tony Garcia, an old schoolmate who is in Saint Jean to explore his Basque ancestral roots, begins to change things for Helen, as she and Tony investigate the mysteries surrounding his family’s past. And then Alex goes missing… A lively, thoughtful short novel by award-winning writer Sophie Masson, A Hundred Words for Butterfly explores family relationships and the past’s effect on the present, with a light touch and a vivid sense of place.



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