Saturday, March 23, 2024

Spain's Culinary Gems: Padróns & Piquillos

                              Smoky roasted red piquillos are flavor bomb toppers for these tapas

I have many favorite food items from Spain, but padrón and piquillo peppers are definitely in my Top Five gastronomic Spanish ingredients.  Go into any tapas bar in northwestern Spain (Galicia, Toro, Rueda) and you’ll see the ubiquitous small green padrón peppers represented somewhere in the lineup of tempting bite-sized morsels. Continue to the eastern part of northern Spain (the Rioja and Ribera del Duero wine districts) and the bright red piquillo will most likely be on every menu in some type of form.  Neither of these peppers are hot so they can be utilized in a wide variety of dishes, or eaten simply by themselves.

                            Padróns are a main-stay on restaurant menus throughout Spain

The shiny green padrón pepper is named after the town of Padrón in Galicia, Spain (home to the famous Albarino wines).  But, the padrón is not native to this area.  In fact, it’s not even native to Spain.  The padrón pepper was brought back to Spain from South America by the Conquistadores.  Monks in Galician monasteries began growing them and the padrón became immensely popular in the local region.  Today, tasty padróns are known throughout Spain.

                                     Once cooked, tiny padróns are the perfect small bite

What makes padróns so popular?  Typically served after a quick sautée in olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, padróns are intensely flavorful and sublimely sweet.   That being said, there is an occasional hot one among the bunch.   Regardless of the one-in-ten that can be quite spicy, padróns are addictive.   In fact, their popularity has been brought back to the Americas.  In the last few years San Diego farmers’ markets have been featuring padróns.  (If you can’t find them, however, shishito peppers are a good substitute).

                                       Very mild Piquillos are roasted over fire

Piquillo peppers, the same color as our red bell peppers, are much smaller than bells (usually 2-3 inches), and have thinner flesh.  Like bells, they are sweet and have no heat, however, Piquillos---unlike bells--- are not eaten raw.  Instead, they are roasted over fire which gives them complex smoky flavors.   Because of their small size, they are perfect for stuffing with everything from goat cheese to tuna or even minced lamb.  Their dimension also makes a piquillo perfect for a tapa.

               These peppers, available on Amazon, are protected by law to prevent counterfeits

Piquillos are native to the Rioja region in northern Spain not far from the Pyrenees mountains and the Basque district.  They are critical to the region both economically and culturally, so much so that they have been awarded a protected status (PDO) by the European Union.   This means that only this variety of pepper, grown in the Rioja, can be called a piquillo.  (Like PDO Parmigiano-Reggiano, PDO Roquefort cheese, and PDO San Marzano tomatoes, the guaranteed origin of a product is everything for a customer to knows he is buying the real-deal and not a knock-off.)

Coming on Wine-Knows' sold out trip to northern Spain this autumn?  You’ll taste both padróns and piquillos.  In fact, our first night in Porto, Portugal the restaurant has padróns on their menu.   Seems like the padrón’s popularity has crossed the border from Galicia, Spain to northern Portugal.  If you're not coming to Spain with Wine-Knows, both piquillos and padróns  are available in the US.

Buen Provecho!

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