The very mention of the name Pimientos del Piquilla has one watering at the mouth. These tiny peppers, about 8 centimetres in length, grow along the Ribera river flats in the Navarra region of northern Spain. An area well known to pilgrims on the camino, the way of St James. It's the first valley on their long trail to Santiago after they leave the Roncesvalles pass in the mighty Pyrénées.
The peppers are wood fired, skinned, seeded and marketed as a preserve. But, the intensive manual labour doesn't come cheap in the processing plant - woman are employed to scrape away every last piece of charred skin.
The raw peppers impart a bitter taste but once charred coal black their flesh acquires an exquisite flavour and their true characteristic becomes apparent. Transformed they become sweet, succulent and aromatic.The smokey tang from the wood fire and the spicy hot nature of these small, dark, heart shaped, red peppers compliment many ingredients. They have become an essential component in the world of the tapa.
The wonderful thing about making up tapas is you don't need to stick to specifics. Do your own thing, mix and match. Here I've opted for a pretty traditional and typical tapa found all over Spain. But not in a position to have Jamon Serrano or Jamon Iberico at my fingertips here in Australia I've substituted prosciutto and really, they are just as delicious. Well, almost...well maybe not quite.
French bread stick cut on the diagonal
Pimientos del Pequilla or substitute charred, skinned and seeded red capsicum
quail egg - optional
Note: Pimientos del Piquilla are very low on the Scovill scale count (the chilli richter scale). In other words, they are not hot.
(photographs taken in our kitchen in the Hunter Valley)