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Peppers: A healthy vegetable available all year long

Wiki Spanish Food editorial team

There are many types of peppers grown all over the world, in all kinds of shapes and colors. But here we're going to focus on Spanish peppers, which were brought over from America by Columbus in the 16th century. This crop spread quickly across the entire Mediterranean and became an important condiment. The pepper, a herbaceous plant in the solanaceae family, is a popular part of our diet. There are many different varieties of both the plant and the fruit, which can be prepared in an infinite number of ways.

Peppers have considerable nutritional value, as they are a good source of vitamins and are low in calories. They can be red, green or yellow.

Plastic greenhouses and hot peppers

They are consumed all year long, helped along in winter by plastic greenhouses in Almería, Málaga and the Canary Islands. There is also a wide variety of hot peppers, known generically as chili peppers, which includes those grown in tropical regions and the tabasco variety, which have a stronger, spicier flavor and contain oils used in medicines.

In Europe, the most common varieties are Morrón (canned), Najerano, sweet Italian, California wonder, sweet Spanish, and Herbón (as opposed to Padrón, which is a misnomer), the latter with a Designation of Origin that includes towns in A Coruña and Pontevedra. There are also Piquillo peppers from Lodosa, Fresno-Benavente and Gernika peppers, and roasted peppers from El Bierzo (the latter three with PGI), not to mention the Riojano pepper, which is grown across several parts of La Rioja, and Galician peppers produced in O Couto, Oímbra and PGI Arnoia.

Peppers are used in salads, in marinated condiments and in many classic recipes throughout Spain, such as gazpacho, pisto (similar to ratatouille) and pipirrana (a type of salad), typical of southern Spain, and piperrada (a sautéed vegetable dish), common in Basque cuisine. They are a main attraction in the garden, and a primary ingredient in recipes in the Basque Country, La Rioja, Navarre, Andalusia, and the Mediterranean Basin.

Red or green, sweet or spicy, it is an essential product in Spanish gastronomy. Roasted, stuffed, fried—it pairs perfectly with a young white wine with body, or with a young red.

Recipes that reflect Spanish culture

The pepper has a very wide range of culinary possibilities and is a part of numerous regional recipes, telling stories of Spanish culture. Many restaurants serve dishes which revolve around peppers, where it takes on a leading role either as the main ingredient or as a garnish. Below are several recommendations for restaurant where peppers are given pride of place.

In Madrid, LOS GALAYOS, with a terrace right in Plaza Mayor, was opened in 1894 and served as a meeting place for the Generation of '27 writers. It has an extensive menu which includes one especially popular dish: fried baby squid with free-range eggs and red and green pepper julienne. At LA MANDUCA DE AZAGRA, also in Madrid, Juan Miguel Solá is an expert in using vegetables from Navarre, and his fried eggs with grilled peppers is absolutely delicious. At CASA MARCELO, in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, near Padrón, Marcelo Tejedor's dishes are exceptionally modern and full of surprises, and he uses local peppers in many of his recipes.

In La Rioja, land of outstanding peppers, a safe bet is TONDELUNA, headed by one of Spain's top chefs, Francis Paniego, who prepares a wonderful dish of caramelized Riojano peppers, which are also served as a side for other recipes. In Tafalla, Navarre, we recommend TÚBAL, where Atxen and his son Nicolás are known for their amazing local dishes, prepared with the very best ingredients. Their egg in a fried potato crust with seasonal Piquillo peppers and garlic toast is especially delicious.  In San Sebastián's old town, Gernika peppers are particularly tasty at the poplar BAR NÉSTOR, one of the city's legendary locales.

ADDRESSES

LOS GALAYOS. Botoneras, 5. Tel.: 913 663 028. Madrid

LA MANDUCA DE AZAGRA. Sagasta, 14, Tel.: 915 910 112. Madrid

CASA MARCELO. Hortas, 1. Tel.: 981 552 580. Santiago de Compostela

TONDELUNA. Muro Francisco de la Mata, 9. Tel.: 941 236 425 Logroño

TÚBAL. Plaza de Navarra, 4. Tel.: 948 700 812. Tafalla. Navarra.

BAR NÉSTOR. Pescadería, 11. Tel.: 943 424 873. San Sebastián.

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11/12/2014