In the summertime throughout Spain, at every tapas bar and restaurant, plates of little green peppers cooked quickly in olive oil are on every menu and sometimes—if you’re lucky—will arrive unbidden to your table. Each bite becomes a game of culinary roulette; you never know which little morsel might potentially set your taste buds on fire--most do not, however. Instead, as you pick them up by their little stems and pop them in, your mouth is filled with a savory, intense pepper flavor that transcends the green pepper cousin to which we’re all accustomed. Pimentos de padron are highly addictive (just ask Calvin Trillin) and are meant to be enjoyed hot and unadorned, save for a little coarse salt. They’re never used as an ingredient in other dishes nor are they eaten out of season. They are simply the quintessential summer tapas, exclusive to Spain.
Until now. At a farm in New Kent county, Virginia, and available by mail order through Tienda, pimentos de padron are for the very first time grown and sold in the United States. I gasped when I first saw them on the Tienda site and rushed to order a pound immediately. I fired up a pan with some olive oil at once when they arrived two days later in their styrofoam cooler, and as I savored my first bite, I was flooded with memories of long days spent eating scrumptious, new dishes and drinking lovely, crisp, inexpensive wine. Last year, in northern Spain, rain and mist were the default weather pattern (unlike the drought conditions this year), but when the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the green, green mountains backing the sparkling, blue north Atlantic, nowhere on earth was more magical and more transcendently evocative of summertime. Now, with just a click of my mouse, I can conjure up that feeling of contentment I felt as I sat by the beach in a seaside café, listening to the murmur of a language I barely understood, whenever I want, even in the most prosaic of American kitchens.
Pimentos de Padron
1/2 lb. fresh, Virginian pimentos de padron
1 TB. good Spanish olive oil
coarse salt, to taste
Heat the olive oil over high heat until shimmering and add the pimentos. Toss rapidly with a wooden spoon until lightly browned in spots and puffed. Immediately transfer to a waiting plate and sprinkle with salt. Try to wait until slightly cooled to eat. Be generous; allow your dining companion to have their fair share. You always can order more--while they last.