Wonderfully versatile piquillo peppers come exclusively from the small northern Spanish region of Navarra. Nestled between the borders of southern France and Basque territory, the town of Lodosa thrives on a busy trade in piquillo peppers. The peppers take their name from their distinctive, narrow, triangular shape: Piquillo means “beak” in Spanish.
At first glance, piquillos look like a variant of sweet bell pepper, but just one bite will tell a different story, as the familiar sweetness gives way to a sneaky heat. Navarra’s piquillo peppers are traditionally roasted over a beechwood fire, which adds a delectable smokiness to their bouquet. The final product is then packed whole in its delicious juices, ready to be sliced, stuffed and puréed into a variety of delicious dishes.
I’ve also included a recipe here for making leafy herb oils. This is a great way to use fresh herbs, and the oil can add a new dimension of flavor to grilled meats, fish, and vegetables. Let me know what creative uses YOU find for using fresh herb oil.
GOAT CHEESE STUFFED PIQUILLO PEPPERS
Serves 12 as a Tapa
Seek out a good herbed fresh goat cheese or alternately, mix in your own favorite fresh herbs. Piquillo peppers are available canned or jarred. Save any of the leftover garlic scented olive oil for other uses such as frying potatoes.
10 ounces fresh herbed goat cheese
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
12 whole piquillo peppers
1/3 cup fragrant extra virgin olive oil
5 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
12 Caper berries, drained
Fresh Basil Oil (recipe follows)
Mash the goat cheese in a bowl with the zest. Stuff the whole piquillos three-quarters full with the mixture and place on a rimmed baking sheet.
Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan and fry the garlic until lightly golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Drizzle the peppers with some of the oil and briefly broil in a preheated oven. If cheese oozes out just push it back in.
To serve: Use a spatula to transfer to a platter or individual plates and top with the fried garlic and a grinding or two of pepper. Serve with a caper berry or two, if desired.
3 cups packed herbs, large stems removed
1 – 2 cups olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Blanch the herbs in lightly salted, boiling water for 2 – 3 seconds. Drain and immediately plunge into ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. This blanching step inactivates the enzymes that cause the herbs to turn brown and develop an oxidized flavor.
Squeeze the herbs very dry with your hands. Chop and add to a blender along with enough oil to cover by 2 inches. Blend to make a paste. Let sit for an hour or two and then strain thru a fine mesh strainer or a coffee filter. This might take an hour or two depending on what you are using to strain the mixture. Season with a little salt and pepper if you want, and store covered and refrigerated for up to 3 weeks. Return to room temperature before using.