Marmitako ("from the pot") is a classic Basque stew of tuna and potatoes that evolved on fishing boats. In typical fashion, just about all of the ingredients (apart from the fish) are New World imports; Basques were early and enthusiastic adopters of the potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes (and corn, and beans, and chocolate, and pretty much everything that returned with Columbus) and they quickly became indispensable components of the cuisine. Despite the seeming similarity with Italian preparations, the flavor is not at all Italian, due mostly to the peppers. The use of green bell pepper in the soffrito, piquillo peppers in the stew, and a finishing dust with piment d'Espelette all give this dish (and many others) a uniquely Iberian and specifically Basque slant that's instantly recognizable.
Basques are also famous for their culinary flexibility and improvisation, which is a good thing, because I had Marmitako on the brain and was short a couple of major ingredients. First off, we had swordfish instead of tuna. This turned out to be better than OK, since the sweet, nutty flavor was an excellent match with the stew. And lacking piquillo peppers–which are easily found online, roasted, in jars–I used a couple of dried ancho pods instead, supplemented with a fat pinch of pimentón for some smoky depth. The rest was pretty standard: sautée onion in olive oil, add dried pepper, garlic, and some herbs, then sliced fingerling spuds and busted-up canned tomatoes with enough water to cover for a simmer. Once approaching tender, I added cubed fish, chiffonaded kale (nutrition trumps tradition) and let it simmer a few minutes more to firm up the fish. Then I took it off the heat and let it sit, covered, for about 15 minutes to marry the flavors.
The totally out-of-season ingredients made it but a pale imitation of what the real thing should taste like, and I plan to do this again in September when all of our very own personal nightshades are resplendently ripe and sweet. But having said that, this was very tasty and satisfying on a cold evening– all the more so for having used only one pot and taken about 40 minutes, including the 15 minute rest before serving.
I recently did a ton of research on Basque food for another gig, and it's nice to have all the reading finally begin to work its way into actual cooking. Never having been there, it's a slower process of assimilating ingredients, flavors and techniques into my regular practice, but it's happening. We had our vaguely Basque-themed dinner a few weeks ago, there's some salt cod in the fridge, and I've been messing around with the Espelette pepper recently, combining it with other spices with a nefarious purpose in mind. That post is just about ready. Don't touch that dial.
Actually, if you need a break from frantically battering the refresh button on this page you could do worse than to read Jonny's excellent post about hake in green sauce, another Basque standard.