|Getaria. I want to go to there.|
This morning, while I adoringly perused this week's editions of Ruth Reichl's gift guide, I discovered a veritable mail-order wonderland: La Tienda. Holy mother, where have you been all my life?
Obviously we think of Spain first for their jamon. And, I have to say, if this sampler arrived to me as a holiday gift, I would probably pass out on the spot.
Then, there are the peppers. There's a blissfully large pepper section on La Tienda, but the ones I find to be most notable are the guindilla peppers in the picture above. As you'll notice, these peppers are perfectly designed by nature to curl gently around an olive wrapped in an anchovy, making one of the most popular tapas in Spain, the pintxo Gilda. I dream about this.
I know, you guys. You're like, "Rebecca, wtf - you've never even been there yet. Slow your roll." But, I can't! I read A LOT.
There are certain things about the food and drink of this culture that make people obsessive. Quiet, unexpected things that get in your head and never come out. Like how, early into your engagement, you can get happily drunk with friends in their living room and explain how you've been thinking of the Basque country for your honeymoon. And how, when that happens, your friends' faces light up and they open a special bottle of Txakoli from the exact town you should go to. And then you find a new favorite wine. And then you have to import cases of it from NY to Massachusetts for your wedding because you just don't want to drink anything else. And then you set up email alerts so you know when it will be back in stock somewhere. I'm serious, you guys. Rabbit hole doesn't even begin to cover it.
I'm also still reeling from the realization that you can buy IBERICO PORK STEAKS. Steaks, guys. This information is almost more than I can handle.
As my obsession has increased, I've slowly begun to seek out every single Basque and Spanish specialty that has ever been imported. But some things just aren't. Almost ever. Like the elusive and mysterious pimiento de padron.
Padron peppers are tiny, crisp, tart and vary in heat from a slutty cousin of the bell pepper to face-melting. The fantastic thing about these peppers is that there's no way to tell which will be hot and which will be mild, which has led many a loser to describe these as playing Spanish Roulette. I am one of those losers.
These peppers never used to be grown outside Spain. So, imagine if you will, the day that I saw bushels of padron peppers overflowing from a bin at a local farmer's market this summer. It was intense, as my Sidekick will attest. I bought pounds of them each week. Searing them, stuffing them, I couldn't get enough. Then the day came when all of the peppers in the bin we enormous, almost palm-sized. The woman who ran the booth warned me that these were hot peppers, much hotter than jalapenos. I tossed her warnings off casually - as both a frequent chile eater and a new padron-devotee, I glibly took another pound home and seared some up for the Sidekick and friends. Whose faces I promptly EVISCERATED with capsaicin.
I have since learned that late-season, fully matured, big padrons are always on the nuclear scale. BY READING. Which is something we should all do more of, I guess. For the sake of others and their tongues. Especially now that La Tienda will let me mail order them from Virginia when I stop seeing them in Brooklyn. (Oh yeah, I set up an email alert for that too.)
So, I'm sorry to do this to you in December, so long from the next padron pepper season, but I think you'll appreciate the anticipation the first time you play Spanish Roulette. (Losers!)
Jose Andres' Padron Peppers with Tetilla Cheese
24 fresh padron peppers
8 oz. Tetilla (Spanish cow's milk cheese) - also had great luck w/ Roncal and aged Gouda
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
With a paring knife, make a slit down the center of each pepper from the top to the middle, being careful not to split them. Slide a strip of cheese into each slit and squeeze the peppers around it.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small saute pan or cast iron griddle until hot and smoking. Brown the peppers on each side, turning every 30 seconds, until the cheese melts. The peppers should keep some of their crunch, so do not let them cook for too long. Transfer the peppers to a plate, season with salt, and drizzle with olive oil before serving. (I also like to splash an itsy bit of sherry vinegar on these, which I think Jose would approve of.)