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Piquillo Chile Peppers
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Piquillo chile peppers are uniform, slightly curved to straight pods, averaging 8 to 10 centimeters in length and 4 to 5 centimeters in diameter, and have a conical shape that tapers to a distinct point on the non-stem end. The skin is smooth, waxy, and taut, ripening from green to dark red when mature. Underneath the surface, the flesh is thick, crisp, and pale red, encasing a central cavity filled with many round and flat, cream-colored seeds. Piquillo chile peppers, when raw, have a sweet and tangy flavor mixed with little to no heat. Once cooked, the pepper’s flavor develops smoky nuances and deepens into a savory-sweet taste.
Piquillo chile peppers are available in the summer through fall.
Piquillo chile peppers, botanically classified as Capsicum annuum, are a mature, sweet variety that belongs to the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Also known as Pimiento de Piquillo de Lodosa, Piquillo translates from Spanish to mean “little beak,” which is derived from the pepper’s similarity in appearance to a pointed bird’s beak. Piquillo chile peppers are very mild, ranging 500-1,000 SHU on the Scoville scale, and are popularly roasted, peeled, and preserved in jars to develop a sweet, smoky, and tangy flavor. This preservation process earned the peppers a Denomination of Origin in 1987, which is an indication that acknowledges and protects the unique flavor of preserved peppers that are made in specific regions in Spain. Nicknamed the “red gold” of Lodosa, Piquillo chile peppers are widely used in both raw and cooked Spanish culinary applications and are receiving worldwide recognition for their sweet, tangy flavor.
Piquillo chile peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that can help build collagen in the body and boost the immune system. The peppers also contain some potassium, vitamin A, folate, manganese, and vitamin K.
Piquillo chile peppers are best suited for both raw and cooked applications such as roasting, frying, and baking. When raw, the peppers can be utilized in any recipe calling for bell peppers and can be chopped into salads, displayed on appetizer plates, consumed as a snack, or blended into sauces. Piquillo chile peppers are also classically grilled and stuffed with fillings such as Manchego cheese, fresh farmers cheese, spicy sausage, or shredded cod, which is a regional favorite in Spain. In addition to stuffing, the peppers can be blended into a soup, cut into segments and served on burgers, mixed into pasta, layered on fajitas, or they are traditionally roasted and then preserved in olive oil, citric acid, and salt. Piquillo chile peppers can also be dried and ground to powder form, which is commonly known and referred to as paprika. Piquillo chile peppers pair well with tomatoes, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cheeses such as goat, cottage, and mozzarella, grains such as barley and rice, meats such as sausage, ground lamb, and beef, fish such as cod, salmon, monk, tuna, and halibut, cooked eggs, pine nuts, pistachios, cilantro, cumin, oregano, lemon, dill, and citrus. Fresh peppers will keep 1-2 weeks when loosely stored whole and unwashed in the refrigerator.
In Navarra, Spain, Piquillo chile peppers have been cultivated and hand-harvested for generations, and when picked, the peppers are then roasted over fires to create a sweet and smoky flavor. Once roasted, the skin is removed, and the peppers are then preserved in their own liquids. These canned peppers, along with other preserved vegetables such as white asparagus and artichoke, have become a signature gift of the region and were mass-produced beginning in the 1960s due to tourists spending their holiday in Navarra and purchasing the jars to take home. The jarred vegetables are still popular gifts for tourists to take home today, especially during the Lodosa Piquillo Pepper Festival every October. The celebration honors the sweet pepper, and vendors sell appetizers, main dishes, and preserved goods using the Piquillo chile pepper, often pairing the dishes with wine and bread. The festival also holds a gastronomic contest where contestants can share their most creative recipe using the pepper. In the past competitions, contestants have utilized chocolates, ice cream, fish, stuffed meats, candied syrups, and creamy cheeses to create whimsical dishes to impress a panel of judges and showcase all the ways Piquillo chile peppers can be used.
Piquillo chile peppers are native to Northern Spain and are traditionally cultivated near the town of Lodosa. The production area is located in the Lower Ribera region of Navarra, an area renowned for vegetable and legume farming. The peppers are handpicked, numbered, and stamped with a Denomination of Origin (D.O.C.), and there are eight municipalities the peppers can be cultivated in, including San Adrián, Lodosa, Azafgra, Sartaguda, Mendavia, Lerín, Andosilla, and Cárcar. Piquillo chile peppers are also grown throughout the Mediterranean, Peru, China, and in the United States in warm, arid climates.
Recipes that include Piquillo Chile Peppers. One is easiest, three is harder.