Nature’s Most Magnificent Cocktail Nibbles

You'll end up eating these by the bowl-full. That's how good they are.

That bowl of blistered, tender peppers above?

Yup, those skinny, dark green beauties are nature’s best cocktail snacks.

These pimientos de Padron are grown by East Palo Alto’s Happy Quail Farms.

I was first turned on to them eight years ago when I wrote a story about them for the San Jose Mercury News Food section. Farmer David Winsberg, whom I fondly call Dr. Pepper for obvious reasons, grows a cornucopia of exotic peppers on his network of backyards and other rented properties in East Palo Alto.

He’s probably most famous for his Padron peppers, though. They are one of the oldest non-hybrid peppers around and were supposedly brought back from the New World to Spain by Christopher Columbus. Named for the town of Padron in northwest Spain, the peppers are a treasured delicacy found in tapas bars around the region during the summer, when they are harvested.

They have a mild grassy, sweet flavor. Cooked, they’re downright juicy in your mouth.

Pimientos de Padron -- before cooking.

Winsberg started growing them in 1998 after a friend of friend brought him back some seeds from Spain. Now, you’ll find Happy Quail Farms’ Padron peppers on Bay Area restaurant menus, as well as for sale at the San Francisco Ferry Building farmers’ market on Saturdays, the Palo Alto downtown farmers’ market on Saturdays, the Menlo Park downtown farmers’ market on Sundays. Deeper into summer, when production is at full steam, you’ll find Happy Quail Farms at additional farmers’ markets. Check the farms’ Web site for more information.

A bag of the Pimiento de Padron peppers is $6.

Preparing them couldn’t be any easier. Put a saute pan on medium heat. Drizzle in a little olive oil. Add peppers, and cook about 30 seconds to 1 minute, stirring regularly, until their skins start to blister and soften. Season with sea salt, and serve as the perfect finger-food for cocktails or wine.

Here’s where the fun begins. One out of every five or so Padron peppers packs a spicy wallop. But you can’t tell just by looking at them, which one might be hot. I usually warn my guests ahead of time. Then, they dig in eagerly in this culinary Russian Roulette. When you see someone’s eyes widen or hear someone let out a yelp, you know they’ve just bitten into a hot one.

My Padron plant.

I also grow my own Padron peppers. Every year for the past three or so, I have planted one seedling. They’re not easy to come by, but you can sometimes find them for sale from plant vendors at farmers markets. This year, I bought mine at the plant sale held by the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners.

My seedling is just a tiny thing right now. Actual peppers are still a few months away.

Fortunately, Happy Quail Farms starts its seedlings in a green house. I say “fortunately,” because now that the weather is warming, I can’t go long without my fix of peppers. Once you try them, it’s guaranteed that you won’t be able to, either.

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  • “Culinary Russian roulette” – What a great description.

    I am totally intrigued. My goal is to find a seedling to plant next year.

  • I can’t believe it’s almost time for Padrons! We posted about cooking these last summer:

    The assertion is, the earlier ones (harvested in June / July) are younger, sweeter, and less hot. the later ones (August / September) have more heat.

    We missed out on getting a padron plant at the Master Gardener’s sale. They’ve become wildly popular these days. How successful were you at growing them?

  • Oh, btw, I saw another grower based in Santa Cruz selling Padron peppers at the Saratoga Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.

  • Something new learned today for sure!

  • Those look great! Now, I’m inspired to look around for seeds. The uncertain heat level sounds like anaheims. I’ve had mild ones and very hot ones all from the same bin at the grocery store.

  • That’s one roulette game I wouldn’t mind playing. I checked their website put it looks like the closest south they get is Palo Alto. Here’s hoping they get to Campbell at some time!

  • I’m not sure I’ve ever had Padron peppers. How wonderful that you are growing them yourself!

  • Hope you’re having a great birthday today, FoodGal! May it be filled with lots of crispy-fried goodness.

  • Oh, your plant looks so cute! I just went to a Spanish tapas restaurant and had peppers that were so yummy. Not sure if they were the same variety, but I love the simplicity of mild (not yelping hot) peppers to munch on.

  • This takes me back. I’ve lived in Spain twice, and the second time was in the Southern seaside city of El Puerto de Santa Maria. I basically picked up and moved there after graduating from college and found a wonderful family to live with. My senora fried peppers a couple times a week and I quickly learned to make them with her. Our tradition is similar but a little different than how you describe cooking yours. What we did was take a sharp knife and create a long slot lengthwise down each pepper, then stuffed the inside of each with a pinch of salt. We then fried the peppers in a pan of a LOT of olive oil (probably a deep saute pan with about 1.5 inches of oil) until they were soft and flimsy and golden in parts. We all fought over them so much that my senora started making giant batches at a time. Now I want to make these at home in LA! I hope LA farmers markets carry them too!

  • Will definitely keep me eye out for these. I bet they’d be tasty on the grill, too.

  • My mouth is watering…I love peppers. I also love that most critters do no like them so we can grow them without the normal veggy burglaries we normally have.

  • Nate: I’m not sure that theory holds about later ones in the season being hotter. Some people also think the smaller-sized ones are always sweeter. Neither is totally true. I’ve had discussions with Dr. Pepper about this, and definitely some of the small ones can be super hot. But I kind of like the fact that one can’t tell just by appearance. It makes eating them more fun.

    I’ve grown them for a couple years. They’re easy to grow. It helps to have more than one plant, though. That way, you’re assured to get a good handful of them to eat at any one time. With my one plant, sometimes I only end up with about six or so ready to eat at once.

    And Slow-1 is correct. The squirrels and bugs don’t seem to gnaw on the peppers like they do with my tomato plants.

    Single Guy: You might very well have had Padron peppers at the restaurant you ate at. Happy Quail Farms supplies quite a few Bay Area restaurants with the peppers.

    Marni: How interesting about the salt going on the inside of the pepper. In Chef Jose Andres’ cookbook, he does another version where he slits the peppers, and stuffs them with a melty Spanish cheese before frying them up in a pan. That sounds pretty scrumptious to me, too.

  • Yum! I need to pick up some of these! Thanks. And I love the idea of stuffing them with cheese first 🙂

  • I went to a little appetizers and champagne get-together last weekend and someone made peppers cut in half, scraped out, and baked with 4 different cheeses on top (like goat cheese) it was delicious!

  • How delicious, and the random hot peppers sound delightful!

  • I check on my Pedron pepper seeds several times a day, wishing desperately for them to sprout. No signs of life so far. It’s too bad. I went through not a small amount of trouble getting the seeds. Hopefully they’ll still be good next year (and that my thumb will be greener).

  • Hey, I thought you didn’t have a green thumb! Well…if you can grow peppers, you can grow tomatoes and other plants especially green onions! ^_^

    Gosh darn it! You were one of those that beat us to getting those Padron Peppers at the Master Gardener’s Sale. By the time we got there, they were long gone! Ugh…they were the only things I wanted to get at that sale. Oh’s all for the best seeing that we won’t be here to harvest anyway.

    Yum, we’re going to have to get some before long. Love those peppers. Little salt and olive oil…Yummers!

  • I love these. In Japanese they’re “Shishito” same pepper. Same roulette game. My poor husband ALWAYS gets the hot ones and he’s not the biggest fan of scoville units!

    I had them first at Scott’s Steak house near Fashion Island. Great stuff. It was easily a year or two before we saw them appear here in Boston!

  • MMM…your plant looks good,…thanks for that lovely info,…

  • This is the first I’ve heard of Padron peppers and I love the idea that it’s a crap shoot with regard to biting into a really hot one! I’m usually a risk-averse personality but this is one Russian Roulette that I wouldn’t mind playing (as long as the pitcher of sangria is right beside me to douse any potential flame-ups!)

    We’re trying to grow a single pepper plant this year (a run-of-the-mill jalapeño); I keep staring at it but that doesn’t seem to accelerate the growth process . . .

  • never heard of them and how interesting to have small roasted peppers as finger food.

  • Jacqueline: I have had shishito peppers. Love them! Are they the exact same pepper as Padrons, though? To me, the shishito has a bit of a thicker skin than the Padron. No matter, they’re both so addicting, just fried up in a pan.

    Helen: I do believe Padrons tend to grow slowly. I think they need the full heat of summer to start really growing significantly. I know that my little seedling is still pretty little. So don’t worry if your seeds still haven’t sprouted yet. Give it a little more time.

    Annie: A vendor at the Mountain View farmers market also sells Padron seedlings. I bought one from him last year. I can’t remember his name, but he’s easy to spot at the market because of all the herb and vegetable seedlings he has for sale.

  • This looks very nice, must be very tasty i guess.
    Greets from Cologne,

  • These little guys look very tempting and I love fresh peppers, I’ll need to get myself over to the farmers market to pick up a bag full.

  • Just returned from 3 weeks in Spain!!! These are one of my favorite tapas. I am excited that I can find these peppers in the bay area!!!!

  • Funny – just had these in Barcelona last week. The waiter at Inopia recommended them – I don’t usually like peppers but enjoyed these. We proceeded to order them at every opportunity after that. I’m so glad they’re available in the Bay Area – I can’t wait to get home and try to make them!

  • I grow pimientos de padron on a semi commercial scale and find that the more they are watered the sweeter they are . if you leave them a few weeks without or with minimal water they hot up fast. I eat them daily and like them with salt and oil with fried tomato and garlic or with melted cheese.

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