A simple discovery led to an annual ritual. A few years ago, we pulled in to a picturesque restaurant in the Napa Valley that we like to visit, late for lunch but starving. The place was shutting down to set up for dinner, but sure, we could sit in the courtyard and they would serve us. How about starting with an appetizer of shishito peppers and sharing a composed salad? That would least disturb the kitchen.
We were enjoying ourselves sipping wine at a café table under olive trees that sent dappled light across the courtyard, when the waiter brought out an oval plate piled high with shishito peppers. I had been expecting a more complicated appetizer, perhaps with anchovies or cheese, but no, this was a pile of two-inch peppers that had been sautéed in olive oil, slightly charred in places and sprinkled with salt. No utensils, just a plate of peppers. Picked up by the stem end and eaten in a bite or two, they were simply magical.
I have spotted shishito peppers only once in our local farmers’ markets, so I grow them every year just for the experience we enjoyed in California. Because the plants are prolific and will continue to produce if kept picked, even a few will provide a satisfying harvest. And true to the discovery in the Napa Valley, I prepare them simply. I heat a large heavy pan until very hot, film it with olive oil, lay the peppers in the pan in one layer (make in batches if you have a lot of peppers), and sauté over medium heat, turning them gently and cooking until they collapse, about 10 minutes. They’ll darken in places, but you shouldn’t fully char them. Sprinkle with coarse salt and serve hot. You could also add a squeeze of lemon, but any more complicated preparation would overpower the delicate and delicious flavor and texture of simply prepared shishitos.
Categories: Appetizers, Peppers
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