On a sunny afternoon earlier this fall, I was ambling through the aisles of a seasonal New York City food trade show when I ran into my friend Iker Fernandez, a top importer of Spanish specialty items. He represents great olive oils, vinegars and the super-popular Conservas Ortiz tuna line (a personal favorite of my intrepid co-worker Madeleine), but he also imports a little-known and incredibly tasty line of jarred vegetables and savory items. I scanned the rows of beautifully packaged containers and asked him to recommend a delicacy that I probably had never tried; he slipped me a jar of La Catedral de Navarra Piquillo Peppers. While I was already a big fan of sweet, mild Piquillo peppers, I’d certainly never had the chance to try this brand, and Iker assured me they were the best money could buy.
At the end of my long, arduous day of cheese sampling (yes, I’m being facetious), I took the peppers back to my apartment and — after a brief gourmet-food-induced nap — decided to give them a shot. When I opened the jar, a heady aroma immediately jumped out at me and I noted the brightness and depth of the peppers’ color — so far, so good. These peppers are preserved whole, so I fished a piece out and slipped it into my mouth. As Iker had promised, it was drop-dead delicious, with more flavor than any Piquillo I’ve ever had the pleasure to try. Packed only in citric acid for preservation with no additives to mask the flavor, this was the real deal: all I was tasting was the richness of a vegetable that had been lovingly cultivated in the ideal conditions provided by the Navarra region of Spain and harvested at the peak of ripeness.
In addition to the superior flavor of this particular pepper, I could tell the preparation was also stellar; each piece had the perfect amount of blackened skin flecks that come from the fire-roasting process. After reading through the info Iker had given me, I discovered the secret to the taste: not only are these peppers packed by hand (instead of by machines), but they are not rinsed under water to clean away the burnt skin, so they retain all of that slippery, textured char that fresh roasted peppers have. Genius!
I quickly broke out some of my trusty organic Parra Family Organic Manchego and wrapped a small chunk in a Piquillo; very tasty. I later diced some peppers on top of a salad then finished up the jar the next morning in my scrambled eggs. These peppers are versatile and incredibly healthy; the ideal gourmet treat. Many thanks to my Spanish fellow-food-lover for introducing me to yet another perfect cheese accompaniment!
Additional reporting by Madeleine James.
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