Photo by jlastras/Flickr CC
A confession: I bought a present for a friend and kept it for myself, though it's not as terrible as it sounds. The present-to-be was a can of pimenton de la vera, a smoky Spanish paprika, and after I bought it I was beset by doubts and second thoughts, thinking that it would likely fall on deaf ears and "What was I thinking ...?" So I gave my friend something else (that she really liked). That's the round-about way I got the pimenton, whose delights I'd somehow forgotten, and became inspired.
When I opened the pimenton, a small blast of smoky, pungent paprika hit me full in the face, triggering all sorts of associations and "what if's": "What if I sprinkled some on warm, smashed hard-boiled eggs? What if I rubbed a fat pork chop with it, along with salt and pepper? Or stirred it into pasta sauce? Or marinated a goat cheese or some Manchego cheese in olive oil and the pimenton? Or sprinkled on a grilled cheese?" I tried out all these ideas and more as the pimenton became my new favorite taste: a bit of smoke and earth.
It's miracle stuff, this powder made of ground smoked dried-over-smoky-oak fires peppers from Extremadura. A pinch can provide a layer of flavor to a dish that needs "something" or provide inspiration on it's own. I used it the other night to build in a subtle level of flavor to the most beloved appetizer in Spain: shrimp simmered in a bath of extra-virgin olive oil robustly flavored with garlic. You eat the shrimp and dunk crusty bread in the delicious oil as you sip chilled bone-dry Sherry like La Gitana. I also drizzled in a little Sherry vinegar, which added a lively savor.