A heated affair with Padron, shishito peppers

Place: The Basque Country in the north of Spain. Time: Couple of years ago. Business: Two Yankees walk into a bar. The length of the bar is lined with platters of pinchos, the local term for tapas. Taking a cue from the locals, the Yankees bypass the calamares a la plancha, croquettas de jamon, jamon serrano and manchego cheese. The jump here is on plates of Padrons, finger-length, blistered and scorched local green peppers. Action: They eat. OMG!

Padron peppers, pimientos de Padron, are small, thin-skinned peppers traditional to the Galicia area of Spain. Usually they are served slightly pan-charred in a little olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt and served warm. Padrons are mildly flavored, but definitely not bland, though the occasional incendiary one will pop up because the level of heat varies according to the capsaicin of each pepper. There's a saying, "Os pementos de Padron, uns pican e outros non," which is Galician for "Padron peppers, some are hot and some are not." The little guys have so much spice and chile flavor, you'd think MSG is part of their DNA.

I've searched for the Padrons, my lost love, my one-night stand. Then I met tempura-fried shishito peppers across the globe in an izakaya-sushi bar in Japan, sort of an Asian tapas bar.

Holy kimomos, are these peppers cousins? Seems so.

Back home, I spied grilled shishito peppers on the appetizer menu at Dinette, a restaurant and wine bar in East Liberty. There, chef-owner Sonja Finn tosses the peppers with olive oil, turns them on the grill until blistered and soft and almost collapsed, then plates them in a pool of Sicilian olive oil with dollops of goat cheese and a sprinkling of fried almonds and fleur de sel.

Chef has a super-local source for the peppers. Her dad, Seth Finn, grows shishitos, along with tomatoes and herbs on Dinette's rooftop. His container garden is planted in huge food-grade pails. "I grew up eating Dad's wonderful tomatoes," she says. "Our roof gets sun all day, and it's a perfect, not to mention convenient, spot for him to grow some of the produce I need. And we sell a lot of shishitos." Out of season, she imports the peppers from California.

Now's the time for you to get to know them. Look for padron and shishito peppers at Mott's Family Farm stall at Farmers@Firehouse on Saturdays and at most farmers markets in August and September. Next spring, why not plant your own seedlings?

Padron OR SHISHITO peppers

Padrons or shishitos can be grilled, toaster-oven broiled, pan-fried or deep-fried. If you feel ambitious, make them tempura style.

This is more method than recipe. If you have a "splatter shield," use it. Find padron or shishito peppers in a farmers market, Japanese store, or grow them in your garden.

Rinse and pat dry any amount of peppers (a smaller batch is advised), but don't seed or cut. Pre-heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, at least 1/8 inch deep, and heat. Better turn on the exhaust fan or your smoke alarm will go off.

Using tongs, add the peppers to the hot oil. Stand back because splatter action will occur. Fry until the peppers are blistered and charred a bit.

Use tongs to remove peppers from the oil, and pile the peppers on a platter. Add a generous sprinkle of coarse salt. Serve right away. No, don't eat the stems and end caps.

Marlene Parrish: marleneparrish@earthlink.net .


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