Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Peter Piper

Last week I had the good fortune of finding a wonderful surprise at the Union Square greenmarket. While elbowing people out of the way during my search for the perfect basket of heirloom tomatoes, I was knocked right into a table of small green peppers. A closer look revealed that they were actually Padrón peppers, small, green heirloom peppers from Spain and about the size of a chubby jalapeño. They straddle the line between a pepper and a chile, since only about 1 in every 8 is spicy. The degree of a Padróns heat can vary pretty drastically. I've had some that just tickle the tongue and others that have almost numbed it completely.

These peppers always remind me of time spent in Spain with my family. I still remember a trip many years ago with my parents, grandparents and a number of extended family members. Following a walk though the Valley of the Fallen (a controversial memorial to those lost during the Spanish civil war), the entire family walked up 4 flights of stairs to the top of a neighborhood restaurant. We all shuffled into the small dining room, ducking to avoid hitting our heads on the slanted ceiling and throwing our weary bodies onto rickety wooden chairs. Among the dozens of dishes we ordered were the pimientos de Padrón, blistered and deflated, and challenging us to take a bite. Most of us were cautious, taking small bites from the tip of each pepper and then biting the whole thing off the stem when it proved harmless. But my great aunt couldn't be stopped. Even in her eighties she went for it full force, eating each pepper whole and not apologizing for it.

While the rest of us attempted to quell our seething taste buds with fries (a traditional accompaniment to these peppers), my tia just kept popping the peppers like popcorn, refusing water, fries and bread. Her eyes never watered and the pleasant smile never left her face, regardless of the heat each pepper may have been packing. I thought of that day as I began pan frying the peppers I'd bought. They pop and blister and make a lot of noise but are generally harmless. Or so I thought as I bit happily into the first one to find the tip of my tongue gnarled by heat. I seem to have purchased the unfortunate black sheep batch that had more hot peppers than sweet. It's possible that they were a blend of peppers and not pure padrón, but either way I was still put to shame by the memory of my great aunt. There I was, a happy, healthy twentysomething, running at full speed for a glass of milk to quench the fire, with the memory of an eightysomething who barely blinked at the heat.

Pimientos de Padrón

Heat vegetable or canola oil in a non-stick skillet. Add peppers and cook until blistered on both sides. Remove to a plate and season with coarse ground salt. Enjoy!


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