My relationship with Pimientos de Padrón began in Casa Lola in Malaga. It was one of those Decembers in Andalucía when the sun shines, unfiltered by clouds, for days. There’s heat in the day. In the evenings, there’s a lightweight sultry warmth in the air which seems at odds with Bosque de Navidad, Malaga’s crazy Christmas light and music show. Arches of lights line Calle Larios, firing up three times a night in a frenzied flashing to techno pop, blasted over rivers of delighted people gathered beneath. Christmas and warmer climes always seem at odds with each other. Christmas with crazy techno lights and music seems just wrong.
We arrived at Casa Lola at the perfect time, just as the moving masses of Christmas lights watchers began to flow from the shops to the bars and restaurants. Casa Lola is an old school tapas bar serving tapas and good lightly sweet, dark Vermouth. Good, straightforward, simple Spanish tapas. We climbed up onto stools at one of the high wooden tables.
One minute the bar was quiet and semi empty then, it was like someone had rung a bell. The place was full. The energy shifted. The air vibrated, pulsing with heated conversations, hands gesticulating at menus, flagging down servers. Servers darting deftly between tables; complete focus etched on their faces, choreographed by an unseen hand.
The wooden surface of our table disappeared quickly under plates of tapas. We were going to eat a proper meal later somewhere else. This was just a drink and some appetizers. Jamón served on wax paper in thin slivers that melt on your tongue. Olives so juicy they squelch when you bite into them. Gambas Plancha, juicy, charred. Then the Padrón peppers. Before Casa Lola, I hadn’t eaten them. I wasn’t expecting much. I quickly became addicted. The blistering sweet, smoky charredness of the skin with a hint of a back note of capsicumness. More orders of pepper. More glasses of Vermouth. No need for dinner later.
It’s not that easy to get them where I live. Padrón in Galicia was the first Spanish town to receive the peppers on boats from South America in the eighteenth century. It’s said that the seeds were cultivated by Franciscan monks in nearby Herbón and today they are grown across the Padrón region. On the first Saturday of August in Herbón, a fiesta celebrates all things Padron pepper, marking its cultural and economic importance to the region.
In the UK, I buy them when I see them in the shops. Sometimes, you need to try and recreate a good taste memory and that light, stress free feeling of being on holiday.
They are the perfect snack when you begin cooking and you know you won’t make it until the meal is ready. They are perfect when friends come. Big juicy olives, a plate of slightly gnarly, blistered Padrón peppers and a glass of young cava is the start of a good evening to come.
They are the Pringles of peppers, so you always buy more than you think you are going to need. One in ten is hot as a jalapeno. It’s the fabled Russian Roulette experience which I haven’t yet encountered. I bite into each one in anticipation, almost disappointed when it doesn’t happen.
They are quick to prepare - a hot pan, a little splash of olive oil and turn them as each side blisters and softens. A light shower of salt flakes and a shake of the pan. Eat immediately. They are best when still hot and haven’t collapsed.