Looking for something different for your upcoming December culinary festivities? If you're also interested in a scrumptious item that will beguile even the most discerning of your foodie friends, then look no further than the holiday-red piquillo peppers from northern Spain. Piquillos are sweet and smoky flavor bombs that can be served in multiple ways.
While they're now becoming increasingly popular in the US by those-in-the-gastronomic-know, these peppers were essentially unknown in the US twenty years ago. I know because that's the first time I tasted them in Spain and returned home on a mission to find them. Thank heavens for the Internet and for importers of specialty Spanish food items. Fast forward twenty years later and even Amazon is carrying them. Once you taste a piquillo, you'll understand what all the hoopla is about.
So what is so special about these bite-size peppers? Piquillos are slow roasted over a wood fire, thus their distinctive smoky flavor. They are then peeled and grilled again for extra flavor. Last, they're de-seeded by hand prior to being packed into jars or tins with olive oil, or a simple brine. While they are small in size like a chili pepper, piquillos are definitely more like red bell peppers in flavor than actual chili peppers.
Piquillos are met to be stuffed and make a perfect couple of bites for a holiday tapa. They are often filled with seafood, cheese or meat. I particularly like them filled with minced lamb laced with a host of Middle Eastern spices like tumeric, cumin and mint. (Top them with chopped chives or parsley and you have Christmas on a plate.) On the other hand, just the peppers themselves are wonderful in an omelette, pasta, risotto, or even used as a sauce.
While Piquillo peppers scream "holidays," I use them year around. They are an especially great addition to a Fourth of July party (stuffed with an herb infused goat cheese), or a Spring fling piquillo puree served with Spring veggies like radishes, asparagus, fennel, and artichokes.