I thought I knew chiles. I certainly use several different varieties in my cooking in fresh, dried, roasted, and pickled states. But, when we were in Spain in October, I encountered a type of chile I’d never tasted or even seen at home before and quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to live without it. In the Basque region, these chiles are called guindillas, and elsewhere they’re sometimes called piparras. They’re skinny and light green and have a mild flavor. We saw pickled ones used again and again in pintxos, and then we also found fresh versions of them at a market. The fresh ones were delicious seared and salted just like padron peppers, and the pickled ones were delightful. I started calculating how many jars of these pickled guindillas I could fit in my suitcases and then wondered how long those jars would last already dreading the day they’d be gone. Later, all those worries were washed away when I learned of an online source for gourmet Spanish food products. At Raposos Gourmet, you can find jars of guindillas, piquillos, Spanish olives oils, rice for paella, pimenton, vinegars, jamon, and more. I received some items to sample including an organic Spanish extra virgin olive oil, a basil olive oil, a rosemary olive oil, a jar of guindillas, and a jar of piquillos. With all of this in hand, I was ready to recreate some of the pintxos we enjoyed so much in San Sebastian.
There are some traditional types of pintxos, but for the most part, in creating them you’re only limited by your imagination. A common one, and one of my favorites, is the Gilda which is a guindilla pepper, an olive, and an anchovy fillet on a pick. I turned to the book Rustica for inspiration for a couple of other skewered ideas. The first was the Zigala which involves slowly oil poaching shrimp. I cleaned and deveined the shrimp and then skewered each one onto a pick to keep them straight while cooking. I used the Spanish olive oil I had received and brought it to just 170 degree F in a saucepan. You need a thermometer to be sure the temperature doesn’t rise above that point and enough oil in the pan to cover the shrimp. The shrimp sit in the warm bath of oil and you watch as their color slowly changes while they cook. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the shrimp used, but you can easily watch to see when they are just cooked through. Mine took about 12 minutes or so. In the book, the shrimp was wrapped with a thin slice of jamon before being cooked, but I omitted the ham. The picks used for cooking were removed, and the shrimp were skewered on clean picks for serving along with a chunk of heart of palm and some guindillas. The Zigalas were sprinkled with pimenton before serving. The second pintxo variety I found in the book was Banderillas which are simple stacks of cornichon, pickled carrot, an anchovy-wrapped olive, a piece of piquillo, and another cornichon.
Food on picks is great for parties, and it’s infinitely adaptable. For instance, the banderillas were supposed to have cocktail onions which would have added a nice white element on the pick, but I skipped them. On the Zigalas, you could use pieces of artichoke hearts instead of hearts of palm and mix up the seafood with some shrimp and some scallops. This was an easy way to recreate some tastes of Spain, and I’m so relieved that I can now easily restock my precious guindillas whenever I want.
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