Thursday, October 29, 2009

Galician Treats

This morning I went to my EarthBox and picked a bunch of Pimientos de Padron. I should've harvested a week ago, now they're a bit overripe and overgrown. But they'll still be tasty roasted in a skillet, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Pimientos de Padron is classic Galician tapas treat. Ten years ago it was a rarity in the Bay Area, a small bag would set you back fifteen to twenty bucks. Happy Quail Farms in East Palo Alto was the first source I found locally. Soon, seeds and seedlings were being sold and given out (my friend Dan--aka Mr. Heirloom Tomatoes--gave me a couple) so I just started to grow my own. Hey, it's legal!

As the name indicates, pimientos de Padron originated in the historic town of Padron in the province of Galicia located in northwestern Spain above Portugal and off the Atlantic coast. It has been a great delicacy there for centuries, and it made the town famous throughout Spain for such an invaluable contribution to tapas. The folks in Padron celebrate their great capsicum with an annual gastronomic fiesta every first Saturday of August. 3,000 kilos of the celebrated peppers are cooked by the townspeople and served with corn bread and chorizos, washed down with copas of Rioja.

But what's the big deal about these chili peppers? Well, aside from tasting great, there's a burning surprise that awaits you when you munch on these. Most taste mild, but one in a few will set fire to your mouth. So the pleasure in eating these peppers is a kind of devious or kinky gastronomy. Of course, terroir is everything. The peppers that come from Padron is really intense in flavor, but the ones we grow here locally is milder but still delicious. My EarthBox sitting on the porch, with a southwest exposure, filled with organic soil from Sloat provides good terroir.

Aside from pimiento, Galicia produces marvelous wines from local grape varietals. This being a cool-climate area, Galicia produces Spain's greatest white wine in Albariño. An Albariño that knocked my socks off is the Leirana from Forja del Salnes. It is made from vines 40-years-old planted on a ridge of sand and granite soils. The vines yield an extremely small crop, just 2 kilos per vine for a total of 500 cases of wine! We are fortunate to sell a few bottles of it at Vineyard Gate.

Mencia is the great red wine of Galicia. In Bierzo, Alvaro Palacios has made this wine world famous, and almost as expensive as his legendary Priorat wines. However, it is in Ribeira Sacra, specifically in the subzone of Amandi, where Mencia verges on the sublime. Pedro M. Rodriguez Perez of Guimaro crafts elegant Mencia wines from steep terraced vineyards that he restored from antiquity. His flagship Mencia from old vines (viñas viejas) is another rarity that we sell at Vineyard Gate. This exalted wine offers fabulous concentration and graceful, layered flavors that cascade endlessly like the breathtaking terraces of the mountain vineyards.

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