Pantry: It’s pepper season in Sonoma County!
Pepper season is in full swing, with piles of colorful sweet peppers, baskets of hot peppers and the sweet aromas of chiles as they roast filling our farmers markets. Everything from the tiny lemon drop and the long curly Jimmy Nardello to plump poblanos and bells beckon from dozens of stalls in every market. It is time for chile rellenos, chile verde, posole, fermented hot sauces and one of the easiest of all nibbles, blistered Padrons and Shishitos, once hard to find and now ubiquitous.
A decade ago, the Padron, a small chile from the Galicia region of Spain, was the delicacy of the moment. Jill Adams of Crescent Moon Farm was the first to offer it locally and you had to arrive at the farmers market early or miss out. Soon she introduced Shishitos and before long, other farmers were growing both.
Now you can find them at Trader Joe’s in the middle of winter. The best, of course, are those grown locally and offered in their own true season.
Shishitos are the “it” chile this year. Customers who once couldn’t get enough Padrons now pass them by and ask for the larger Shishito.
It seems people are afraid of Padrons, which are known casually as Russian Roulette peppers. About one in ten are hot. Some are only mildly hot; others pack a wallop and there is no way to tell by looking at them. If you are not accustomed to such heat, you won’t find the experience pleasant, though it will take only a few to boost your tolerance. When this happens, you’ll be able to appreciate both the heat and the complex flavor and slightly meatier texture.
Padrons do heat up as the season progresses, especially if they are allowed to grow larger than about the size of the first joint of your thumb. By late September, there is a greater percentage of hot ones, but the ones I’ve enjoyed recently have been mild and delicious.
The Jimmy Nardello chile is also becoming increasingly popular. It is typically picked when it is red and it has a sweet flavor, with very meaty flesh. This chile can be seared just as Padrons and Shishitos are but it is more common to find Nardellos incorporated into dishes rather than served on their own.
These chiles barely warrant an actual recipe, as the technique for preparing them is quite simple and they are best served neat, with maybe a squeeze of lemon on lime. You can enjoy them with other foods but I find it best to do so by using them as a garnish or a side dish.
The skin of Padrons and Shishitos is quite thin and there is no need to peel it. Jimmy Nardello skin is typically thicker and I prefer to peel it before enjoying the chile.
Serves 4 to 6, easily doubled
8 ounces Padrons, Shishitos, Jimmy Nardellos or a combination
— Olive oil
1 lemon wedge
— Maldon Salt Flakes or other flake salt
— Black pepper in a mill
Set a heavy pan, such as cast iron, over high heat and add just enough olive oil to coat the pan with a thin film. Add the chiles and toss frequently, until the skins blister and they begin to soften and take on a bit of color.