From the world of food writing, only a scant cup’s worth of articles slip into my unconscious and remain there year after year. Sometimes they’re so indelibly imprinted that I need no reminding they are there; it still smarts to think about Daniel Patterson’s declaration in the New York Times that culinary creativity was all but dead in Northern California, and I have Bill Buford and the New Yorker to thank every time I look mournfully at my pot of pasta water knowing that, unless I boil batch after successive batch of noodles in it and accumulate all that lovely starch, I will never produce anything as good as they do at Babbo.
Other times, the things I read become stowaways in the deserted cargo hold of my mind. Just like I didn’t know I remembered all the lyrics to Xanadu until my sister bought me the DVD last year, I hadn’t the foggiest notion just how much my gray matter had absorbed of Calvin Trillin’s ode to pimientos de Padron until I spotted a bag of the knobby green peppers at the farmers’ market a few weeks ago.
In an instant, Trillin’s words were dislodged much in the way that Anton Ego’s first bite of ratatouille transported him years into the past. I felt some unknown force take over my arms and command them to reach forward, tossing bag after bag of bite-sized peppers into my carryall. Despite never once having enjoyed them late at night in a tapas bar in Spain, I sensed the sky darken to the purple of nighttime, and a warm summer breeze rustled past, carrying with it the faint music of espanol. I looked down, surprised not to see a glass of sherry in my hand.
What makes these humble peppers so magical? Well, biting into one is always a surprise; it could be sweet and nutty, or fiery hot. Only one in a dozen packs a punch, but you never know which one you’ve got until it’s too late. They’re also hard to find. In 1997, when Happy Quail Farms started selling them, they were the only grower in the country. They’re still the only farm in the Bay Area that cultivates them.
When I got home, I fried the pimientos de Padron up in olive oil, tossed on a few generous pinches of salt, and bit in to one, still hot from the pan. A tingling heat flashed across my tongue — the kind that comes from the power of capsaicin, not flame. I went in for another. The next few were mild, but it was the elusive spicy ones that kept me coming back, bite after bite.
Fried Pimientos de Padron
1 bag pimientos de Padron
1. Cover the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high until very hot.
2. Toss the peppers in whole. Shake the pan occasionally. Once small black and gray blisters appear (about 2-4 minutes in) they are done.
3. Pour them onto a plate, sprinkle with plenty of coarse salt to taste, and serve hot.
Serves 2-4 as a starter