Addictive. Exciting (there’s about one muy caliente pepper in a batch). The little Spanish peppers that are now fairly available at farmers markets make an easy and tasty casual starter during the warm months when the peppers are grown. Cooked in oil and sprinkled with salt, these treats are common in Spain’s tapas bars and in upscale Bay Area restaurants. I’ve seen a few of these peppers added to a fritto misto (basically, any battered and fried food) and other renditions beyond the basic sauteed version.
Their flavor is more interesting than other mild green peppers I’ve had. Even the occasional spicy ones are yummy. The classic preparation is to cook them in a little olive oil until they’re blistered and soft. I’ve tossed in a little garlic at the end and this is also good. I saw a recipe in one of Nobu’s books that called for grilling or broiling the peppers and serving with special finishing salt. There are even more variations one could try.
Reportedly, these padrón peppers are grown in a remote coastal part of Galicia, where there’s an annual fiesta to celebrate the delectable little vegetable. There are rumors that these peppers were brought back from the New World by Columbus. They first showed up locally years ago at Bay Area farmers markets, supplied by East Palo Alto’s Happy Quail Farms, which grows specialty peppers. Owner David Winsberg got some seeds back in 1998 and seemed to be the only source for a long time, lucky guy, since he charges $6 for a small sack.
Now many vendors grow them — prices vary but they can easily be had for a lot less than $6 a sack — and the enthusiastic response has produced interest in another small, savory, perfect-as-an-appetizer pepper, the shishito, which is similar to the Spanish pepper but has a slightly sweeter, more floral flavor. The difference is subtle, though. Currently, shishitos are harder to find and more “cool” through relative scarcity but they’re both delicious. Shishitos are a bit longer while padrons are more wrinkly.
I’ve grown them a couple of times and it’s an easy task. Pepper plants aren’t too demanding; just give them sun, water and decent soil.
This couldn’t be easier. Use tasty olive oil (my choice is California Olive Ranch oils, which are delicious and well priced) which can include flavored olive oils like lemon or herbs. Put just a little oil in a fry pan, throw in the peppers whole and saute on medium to low heat, turning them frequently until the skin is uniformly blistered. It’s fine to blacken them a bit (see top photo). Remove to a paper towel to blot excess oil, salt them and serve. My favorite salt is smoked sea salt (buy online or at stores like Penzeys, which is spice central for foodies).
Don’t eat the stems unless you want to. I include a bowl for discarded stems.