Monday, January 23, 2012

An Elusive Pepper

Ever since our recent California trip, my husband and I became obsessed with a simple pepper.  A small, light appetizer resulted in an all-engrossing internet hunt for these little green guys.  It was a very simple dish of blistered Padrone peppers served with nothing but olive oil, sea salt and some smoked goat cheese on the side. It was fresh, unique and completely satisfying; I knew I had to re-create it at home. 
 Padrone peppers come from a Padrone region of Spain and are a very common tapas dish.  I have never seen them sold anywhere in my region and all of the specialty internet sites listed them as out-of-season, so of course I was disappointed.  Everyone knows that patience is not one of my virtues.  I encountered a similar dish at a Manhattan tapas restaurant, but the menu listed them as Shishito peppers instead, and after a taste, I was absolutely sure that these were the same thing.  So I went back to the internet and placed myself on a long, long waiting list.  As it turns out, the Shishito peppers come from Japan, and yes, they are very similar in taste to the Padrones , and that I am not the only one out there who wants them, it took more than two months to get my shipment from California ( which is where all the specialty produce grows these days…I am so envious of people who live there).  They cost a fortune and when finally arrived, I could not wait to cook them, but… life has other plans.  Family matters turned somber that weekend, cooking anything, especially these peppers had to wait and I forgot about them, leaving for a business trip on Monday.  After a few days away I finally remembered that I didn’t even open the original plastic packaging, that my poor little, precious peppers were suffocating in the fridge.  Of course I tossed and turned all night at the thought (wouldn’t you?).  My poor husband got a frantic call at dawn to go and check on my pepper’s  health.  But they survived and when I returned home a simple tapas dinner with a very special bottle of wine was made… it was well worth the wait.
The wine we opened was also discovered on the same day as the peppers.  When visiting great Santa Cruz wineries we found a very unusual Pinot Noir at the Beauregard winery.  The wine came with a story.  In 2009 when California was ravaged with fires, most winemakers discarded the grapes that were exposed to smoke.  But some of the Beauregard Pinot grapes were saved and blended to create a very special, smoky Pinot Noir.  The wine is very interesting; it has a quality of almost Isle Whiskey, were the smoke doesn’t ruin it, but enhances the flavor.  Paired with my simple peppers (yes, I do pair food to wine occasionally, not the other way around), it was beautiful.
A great dish does not have to have many incidents or be complex, this is a perfect example.  Serve it as an appetizer or as snack.  Because these particular peppers are not hot (they have a bit of spice to them and one in 10 may be hot, it is like a lottery) they work well on their own.  I do not think other kind of chili will work… but you can try.

Blistered Chili Peppers with goat cheese.
½ lb of fresh Padrone or Shishito peppers
1 tbs of olive oil
Coarse sea or grey salt to serve
Goat cheese (optional) – If you can find a smoked goat cheese, go for it.

Heat the olive oil in the skillet until very hot.  Blister the peppers on all sides; it only takes a few min.  You need to turn the frequently and do not overcook, you are just looking for blistered skin only.

Salt them generously before serving along some goat cheese. 

Open a nice bottle of Chablis or a light red such as Pinot Noir and enjoy!

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