What's in Season: Pep in Your Step
“Just move to Spain and be done with it,” advised listeners exhausted by humorist and writer Calvin Trillin’s ravings about Galicia’s pimientos de Padrón. Trillin alternatively found a backyard grower in Newark, New Jersey, to feed his pepper habit, and in the ensuing years, many enthusiasts have come to share his addiction.
The small green peppers, brought from South America by 18th-century Franciscans to their monastery in the town of Padrón, are iconic tapas. Come summer, the sizzle of the peppers sautéing in olive oil rides the air of northwestern Spain like castanets, and the song is being reprised in our own tapas bars and Spanish restaurants. Fresh from the pan, sprinkled with sea salt, and eaten whole, the peppers of August reach a crescendo of flavor and heat.
Trillin found pimiento de Padrón salvation in New Jersey, but we don’t have to go that far. Galician-born chef Antonio Alvarez of La Camelia (234 N Bedford Rd, Mount Kisco 914-666-2466) has grown them in his garden for 12 years now. This summer, the bounty of his 70 plants will sauté, brine, or mince their way through his menu just as they did through his childhood kitchen. “Every summer, my sister and I were sent outside to pick the peppers,” he reminisces. “My grandmother had me wash them in the stream.”
Today, a sink prevails, but the preparations are the same. “In August, the peppers are larger and hotter, and I stuff them with shredded bacalao, bell pepper, shallots, and garlic,” he says. He might julienne and sauté them with sweet sausage as well, or first brine, then mince them with olive oil for bread-dipping or place them whole atop a salad. Last year, he brined five gallons’ worth. “I used them all winter,” he says. “My customers ask for them.” Those customers are lucky, as are the friends and neighbors he gifts with surplus armfuls. But don’t despair if you’re not on his list; a New Jersey grower, Yuno’s Farm, sells them at the Larchmont and Piermont greenmarkets, and they’re offered on the La Tienda website (tienda.com).
Trillin would eat 30 or 40 pimientos de Padrón at a time; you might start with a plateful. Or just head over to La Camelia. After a visit or two, I’ll bet you’ll work your way up.
Galician Pimientos de Padrón
Courtesy of Antonio Alvarez, La Camelia
1 lb pimientos de Padrón, stem on, washed, and dried
1 shallot, minced or julienned
Coarse sea salt, or kosher salt
4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
In a sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add pimientos and sauté until wilted and slightly blistered. Add shallots and cook about 1 minute, careful not to burn shallots. Spoon pimientos and shallots onto plate or wooden platter, sprinkle with salt, and pour oil from pan over. Hold stem and eat in one bite as tapa or side dish, preferably with Albarino wine.