Despite owning an entire set of Proust, inherited from my erudite grandmother (who lived in France for several years and loved it for the rest of her life and who I adored), I’ve never been able to bring myself to read him. He just gets on my nerves. But I bow to him now because this post is about how some smells and tastes can bring entire worlds back to life for you, and Proust, of course, staked out that territory with the Madeleine (trope or no).
Several years ago we went to Spain. In San Sebastian, a gorgeous seaside town that’s known as Donostia in Euskera, the Basque language, the pre-dinner tradition is a tapas ramble. You walk up and down the streets of the old city between about 7 and 9, ducking in and out of bars and sampling small dishes called pintxos (pronounced PEEN – chos) washed down with Txacoli (pronounced CHA – ko – LEE), a light, slightly fizzy wine that bartenders compete to pour from the greatest height, holding the glass as low as possible and pouring from a bottle held as high as possible to maximize the fizz. You’re actually supposed to then go on to a sit-down dinner around 10 or 11 but we never made it; the pintxos were just too seductive.
At one of the bars we stopped at, the bartender was serving big piles of fried peppers, turned out onto newspaper and lightly salted. I didn’t want to order them because I could not imagine how two people could eat that many peppers but they were so good it turned out not to be a problem. When we got home, we wanted to recreate that experience. It was harder than we thought, both because the climate we live in is a little cool for peppers and because we couldn’t find the right pepper.
Then we found the best frying pepper ever – the one that’s come closest to recreating that taste. It Is, of course, the Jimmy Nardello Sweet Italian Frying Pepper. Ever since it got “elected” to Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste – a list of endangered foods – a few years ago it’s gotten a fair amount of attention from slow food, gardening, and foodie bloggers. The thing that confuses me is that all the photos show the peppers RED.
Of course they’ll turn red if you leave them on the vine, but we pick them green, when they’re about 3 inches long. They are heavenly.
We first found these three years ago and we had a pretty great crop. Last year was the coldest summer in years in San Francisco and things like tomatoes and peppers suffered, though we did get some in the fall. This year, we’re covered. We’ve got one Jimmy Nardello and one Padron (our second favorite) at home. We’ve got two of each growing in soil bags at the Schoolhouse, where we hope they will benefit from the higher temperatures. And Steve’s sharecropped two of each out to his friend Kevin, who lives on the other side of the east bay hills where the temperature hits 100 pretty routinely during the summer.
It’s definitely time to stock up on Txacoli!