Are they Italian or Spanish? I was *confused and still am. I first had something like pimientos del Padrón in Ravello, Italy while on a three week trip to France and Italy with my friend, Chef Jeremiah Tower. We spent the day driving along the Amalfi Coast stopping in at all the beautiful towns along the way. On our way back to our apartment further south along the Campania coast, we decided to drive over the mountains that hug the Amalfi Coast and stop in Ravello. Ravello sits high up in the mountains overlooking the Amalfi Coast. After a winding drive up the mountainside we pulled into the town square and, as always, I was hungry. We went into the first ristorante we saw, sat down at the bar and ordered drinks. I looked over the menu and noticed something that said fried green peppers. They sounded interesting so I ordered them. A few moments later they were placed on the bar before us: a plate full of freshly fried small green peppers, stems attached. They were about the size of a jalapeño but didn't have that kind of heat. There was just a hint of heat. They were lightly salted. Perfect bar food. We gobbled them down with our drinks. And I wanted more. But we didn't order more. I have wanted more ever since.
Flash forward to my recent trip to France and Spain with Robert. We're sitting in Cervecería Ciudad Condal on our first night in Barcelona and I see on the table next to us a plate of fried green peppers. They looked exactly like the peppers I remember eating in Italy. I quickly scanned the menu and there they were, 'pimientos del Padrón' -- they were a Spanish tapas dish. They were lovely, and wonderful, and delicious: fried perfectly in Spanish olive oil, dusted with large-grain salt. Grabbed by their little stems, bitten into and pulled off with your teeth, an explosion of crispy skin, salt crunch, slightly bitter pepper taste, a little fire, and olive oil. Drop the stem on your plate, grab another one, repeat. Of course they were gone too soon. I wanted more. I ALWAYS want more of delicious things. Just the kind of eater I am but we moved on to all the other amazing food we ordered. We spent two more nights in Barcelona and we had pimientos del Padrón at each of those meals.
Like I tend to do with my crazy delicious food experiences I have been dreaming about eating those peppers again since I've been home. I did a little Internet research and found out that they come from Padrón, a municipality in the area of northwest Spain called Galicia. They are grown and harvested from June to September, and eaten all over Spain. What I didn't know about them is that they are also known as 'Russian roulette peppers,' in that one in ten can be extremely hot. As in you bite into it and immediately the heat sears your tongue and mouth, smoke comes out of your ears like in the cartoons, and you think you'll die. When we ate them in Barcelona they were all fairly mild; neither of us came across any with super-fire. I found out that as the season progresses, the hotter they get. August and September peppers are much hotter than early season peppers. I also found out that they are difficult to find in the U.S. however, one company, La Tienda, does sell them via mail order. La Tienda is based in Virginia, and specializes in Spanish food products. Their website states that Virginia is on the same latitude as Galicia so it's perfect for growing these peppers. They grow them from seeds that came from a pepper farmer in Padrón. I placed an order. Three weeks later one pound, or about one hundred peppers, arrived via U.P.S. in a styrofoam container with an ice pack.
When my Spanish friend, Júrgio (pronounced 'sure-show'), heard that I had pimientos del Padrón he was quite surprised. Júrgio, who is Galician and knows Padrón and the peppers well, has lived in Los Angeles for a number of years and has never seen them here. We made a dinner date for the following night to cook them. Júrgio helped me make them and I am glad he did. From watching his mother cook them as a child, he knew things about preparing them that I did not. He told me there are pepper sellers in Padrón, little old Spanish ladies, who can tell how hot the peppers are just by looking at them. When you shop for them there, they ask how much heat you want. Júrgio, his partner Kevin, Robert and I ate all one hundred of them in a matter of a few minutes. There was no Russian roulette for us however. We didn't get any really hot ones. So I've still not eaten one that sends me shooting out of my chair and into the fountain in the square outside. An experience for another day. Lack of heat aside, Júrgio approved; they tasted just like they do in Spain. I was so happy to eat them again!
*Coda: I have yet to figure out how the Italian peppers we ate differ from, or are similar to, the pimientos del Padrón. If anyone knows, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll do more research and write about what I find in a future post.
Here's how we made them:
Pimientos del Padrón
1 lb. Padrón peppers (80-100 peppers)
3-4 cups olive oil
Salt, large grain rock, Kosher, sel de mer, etc.
Clean the peppers by rinsing them lightly. Dry them completely so they won't splatter when they hit the hot oil. Leave the stems attached.
Place the olive oil in a large skillet suitable for deep frying, like a cast iron skillet. You may also use any other type of deep fryer you have on hand. Allow the olive oil to heat on medium to high heat. It will take awhile to get to the right temperature. When you think the oil is close to being the right temperature, place a small piece of bread in it. When the bread begins to bubble and crisp up, the oil is ready.
Place all of the peppers in the heated oil; it will take a moment or two for them to begin cooking. Stir or turn with a metal slotted spoon or sieve. Once they are bubbling and boiling in the hot oil watch for the skins to start puffing and wrinkling. This should only take a few minutes.
Remove the cooked peppers from the oil and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain off excess oil.
Place on a serving platter, and sprinkle generously with the salt.
My Status: it's still hot in Los Angeles - upper 90s, summer is really here; enjoying all the summer produce; writing, cooking, blogging and eating!
Upcoming Posts: The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'.