Pimientos de Padron

| July 21, 2007 | 6 Comments
  • 6 Comments

From the world of food writing, only a scant cup’s worth of articles slip into my unconscious and remain there year after year. Sometimes they’re so indelibly imprinted that I need no reminding they are there; it still smarts to think about Daniel Patterson’s declaration in the New York Times that culinary creativity was all but dead in Northern California, and I have Bill Buford and the New Yorker to thank every time I look mournfully at my pot of pasta water knowing that, unless I boil batch after successive batch of noodles in it and accumulate all that lovely starch, I will never produce anything as good as they do at Babbo.

Other times, the things I read become stowaways in the deserted cargo hold of my mind. Just like I didn’t know I remembered all the lyrics to Xanadu until my sister bought me the DVD last year, I hadn’t the foggiest notion just how much my gray matter had absorbed of Calvin Trillin’s ode to pimientos de Padron until I spotted a bag of the knobby green peppers at the farmers’ market a few weeks ago.

In an instant, Trillin’s words were dislodged much in the way that Anton Ego’s first bite of ratatouille transported him years into the past. I felt some unknown force take over my arms and command them to reach forward, tossing bag after bag of bite-sized peppers into my carryall. Despite never once having enjoyed them late at night in a tapas bar in Spain, I sensed the sky darken to the purple of nighttime, and a warm summer breeze rustled past, carrying with it the faint music of espanol. I looked down, surprised not to see a glass of sherry in my hand.

What makes these humble peppers so magical? Well, biting into one is always a surprise; it could be sweet and nutty, or fiery hot. Only one in a dozen packs a punch, but you never know which one you’ve got until it’s too late. They’re also hard to find. In 1997, when Happy Quail Farms started selling them, they were the only grower in the country. They’re still the only farm in the Bay Area that cultivates them.

When I got home, I fried the pimientos de Padron up in olive oil, tossed on a few generous pinches of salt, and bit in to one, still hot from the pan. A tingling heat flashed across my tongue — the kind that comes from the power of capsaicin, not flame. I went in for another. The next few were mild, but it was the elusive spicy ones that kept me coming back, bite after bite.

Fried Pimientos de Padron

Ingredients:

olive oil
1 bag pimientos de Padron
coarse salt

Preparation:

1. Cover the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high until very hot.

2. Toss the peppers in whole. Shake the pan occasionally. Once small black and gray blisters appear (about 2-4 minutes in) they are done.

3. Pour them onto a plate, sprinkle with plenty of coarse salt to taste, and serve hot.

Serves 2-4 as a starter

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About the Author ()

I grew up in the South where it was common for a meal to include more platters of food than people. I survived on a childhood of sausage biscuits, fried chicken, fried clams, ham rolls, shrimp cocktail, pickled peaches, homemade ice cream, and lemon tarts, and I thought that getting your tomatoes from a paper bag your neighbor left on the doorstep or knowing the name of your favorite corn was normal (Silver Queen was mine). Now I'm a San Francisco-based freelance food writer who's been published in Olive magazine, Best Food Writing, the Oakland Tribune, The Onion, Northside San Francisco and other local publications. As most of my attempts to reproduce childhood favorites in my own kitchen have ended in crushing disappointment, I eat out four to five times a week and cook healthy meals when I'm at home.
  • Anonymous

    Mariquita Farms (mariquitafarms.com) also grows these peppers. They’re doing a carhop sale in SF August 2nd.

  • Tana

    Catherine, today I posted a photo of our padróns, which we picked from our garden and ate yesterday: our first pepper party of the season.

    Logan ate them: three years old, and he ATE them. And loved them. Sad, because that’s one more person to share our haul with.

    I don’t use that much olive oil: some people in the old country use none. But I spray them with my Misto and blowtorch the hell out of them. We prefer less oil and more pepper taste/texture.

    I love watching them actually blister and wilt. And I love sprinkling the kosher flake salt on them, and licking my fingers.

    The blowtorch is excellent, because it gets into the crevices.

    Long live these esmereldas!

  • shuna fish lydon

    Although Mariquita is no longer at the FPFM, they have been growing and selling these incredible peppers for a coupla years now too. because neither Happy Quail nor Mariquita can keep up with the demand, though, it’s hard to say if you’re eating them at a restaurant, who exactly is growing them.

    I love them so much myself that I have to go to the market with as little money as I can get away with. otherwise there goes the savings account!

  • Marc

    I am pretty sure I saw pimientos de padron at the Quetzal Farms stand at the Saturday Berkeley farmers market, along with a collection interesting peppers.

  • Catherine Nash

    Thanks for the tips on where else to buy these lovely peppers (and lucky you, Tana!). I don’t know if I can make it to the carhop sale — at Piccino, yes? — but I could certainly make it over to the Quetzal Farm stand one of these days. I really like Quetzal a lot, they are really nice guys with some awesome peppers.

  • Anonymous

    I just bought a basket at Bi-Rite on 18th St! They’re from Mariquita. There were about two baskets left after I bought mine. Catherine, you’ve made me really excited to fry them up tonight!