I first learned of Galicia’s Pimientos de Padron while reading an essay by Calvin Trillin. He ranks the Pimiento de Padron as one of his favorite foods that can’t be found outside of its place of origin.
Trillin had my curiosity peaked, but I have to admit that I wasn’t convinced a pepper could be so special. Not including some of Mexico’s dried and smoked peppers, I’m not a pepper fanatic. It isn’t that I don’t like peppers or recognize their importance in countless preparations; it’s that peppers as a stand-alone item don’t get me as excited as, say, octopus. Still, if Trillin was willing to swear by them, I figured they were worth a try.
The peppers were originally bred by monks in the town of Padron, Galicia, after the fruit was brought to Europe from the Americas in the sixteenth century. The monks crossed a variety of different peppers to arrive at the desired product. Technically speaking the true Pimiento de Padron should come from the town of Padron itself, but I was satisfied with trying them anywhere in Galcia.
Finding them took no effort at all. Elia and Vicente grow hundreds of them on their farm, Finca As Fadegas, and we arrived right at the peak of the crop. We had a plate of them for lunch on our first day at the farm, and nearly every day since.
The peppers are green and small, ranging in size from about an inch to three inches long. Most of the peppers are not spicy, but some are and part of the fun of eating them is getting the odd hot one. The larger ones are not as desired by most people because they are more likely to be spicy than the smaller ones, although many other factors can influence the presence and level of heat in a pepper, including other crops that are growing nearby.
To prepare, the peppers are fried whole in olive oil until soft, then sprinkled with salt. They can be popped whole into the mouth, as I do, or nibbled at slowly, as someone with more self control than myself would. Either way, at the heart of each pepper is its ball of seeds, which are surprisingly tender and silky. As soon as you finish one, you are probably already halfway on to the next until all that is left is some olive oil and pepper juices on the plate, to mop up with a bit of bread.