Galician Treasure

dining_padroneAt the Everett Family Farm’s farmers market booth, a sign read “el famoso Padrón.” The wrinkled appearance of these small Galician peppers reminded me of pepperoncini.

Galicia is an autonomous region of Spain which is bordered on the south by Portugal and on the north and west by the Atlantic Ocean. Its economy is driven by fishing, manufacturing and agriculture. From one of its municipalities come these pementos de Padrón, only relatively recently available stateside.

Generally a sweet pepper, but occasionally one with an overabundance of capsaicin sneaks in amongst its mellow brethren, earning these capsicums the nickname Russian Roulette. A Galician saying warns, “Peppers of Padrón, some of them hot, and others not.” Apparently, if left to mature to a deep red, they are quite spicy.

Writer Calvin Trillin wrote of this popular Spanish tapas plate in the late, great Gourmet magazine. He had attended the annual pepper festival in Herbón’s Franciscan convent, an ode to the monks who brought the seeds from Mexico in the 15th century, and lamented the lack of these addictive snacks. This led to an invitation to a New Jersey family get-together, where a Galician immigrant had been growing them quietly for years.

Now these fingertip- to thumb-sized peppers are available at farmers markets around the country. The traditional recipe calls for sautéing the whole bite-sized capsicums in a bit of Spanish olive oil for about ten minutes until blistered and blackening, and sprinkling with coarse salt.

I’m a huge fan of chilies, the spicier the better, but I wasn’t too intrigued by the thought of snacking on sautéed vegetables until I took my first bite. I picked one up by its convenient stem handle and separated it from the seared flesh with my teeth. Its meaty texture and soft seeds reminded me of fried eggplant. The few spicier ones I encountered were comfortingly warm.  | KP

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