Ode to Piquillos

There is no love more sincere than the love of food”   George Bernard Shaw

As a self-confessed wine enthusiast and foodie, it is hard to argue with such a declaration.   For me, there are just a handful of things in life that I’m more passionate about than good food and good wine except maybe GREAT FOOD with GREAT WINE!  In my little universe, the intersection of these two loves is about as wonderful as it gets.

Just as any dedicated winemaker will reason that a superior wine depends heavily on the quality of the grapes at harvest,  a devoted chef would also tell you the greatness of any cuisine ultimately boils down to the excellence of its ingredients.   In both worlds, craft and technique alone (while certainly very important) will get you just so far.

Spanish chefs surely have access to an abundance of quality ingredients.  One of the pillars of regional Spanish cooking is their Pimientos (peppers).   Spain was the first country in Europe to import peppers from the New World and as a result many species of pimientos are grown throughout the country.   There is one pepper in particular that is most revered however: Pimiento del Piquillo de Lodosa.

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Piquillos are unlike any other pepper.  Small, red, triangular in shape, with a little “peak” at the bottom, they’re slightly picante and have a firm flesh.   Grown in the small village of Lodosa in the region of Navarra, they are designated and protected under their own Denominacion de Origen (DO).

Piquillo Peppers

Piquillos are harvested by hand and roasted over embers in wood-burning ovens which intensify their flavors.  The peppers are then peeled, seeded and canned without any preservatives or chemicals.  Every can bears the official DO stamp ensuring its authenticity.

In Spanish cuisine, Piquillos can be stuffed with meat or fish, sautéed in garlic and olive oil, or pureed and made into a reduction.  When accompanying beef, they’re a match for medium-bodied reds like a Rioja Crianza.  If paired with fish or filled with goat’s cheese, serve them with crisp, fruity whites.  A good choice would be a Viura based wine from the Rueda DO.   An Albarino from the Rias Baixas DO will also fit the bill.

Best of all is that you don’t have to travel to Spain to sample these delicious pimientos.  They can be found in specialty gourmet shops or purchased on-line.  Any authentic tapas restaurant worth its salt will have them too.  There’s a terrific tapas restaurant in downtown Naples called IM Tapas that features them stuffed with salt cod drizzled with a Piquillo Pepper Coulis (more on this place in a future post).

Jim Greeley

Wine Supervisor SW Florida

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