Continuing with our occasional series on terroir–a concept explaining the connection between a particular food or drink product and a particular location–in the Basque Country, today we’re going to look at the green chili peppers of Gernika (Bizkaia) and Ibarra (Gipuzkoa).
As noted in our previous post on the red chili peppers of Ezpeleta (Lapurdi), the chili pepper itself is a great example of the Columbian exchange. Whereas the red chili peppers of Ezpeleta retain much of their original heat, those of Gernika do not, although the Ibarra variety can be somewhat spicy.
The green chili peppers of Gernika are about 2-3 inches long and an inch in breadth, wider than those of Ibarra. Derived from the Capsicum annuum species, these chili peppers are characterized by an intense green color. Production takes place between May and October and is not limited to the area of Gernika alone; in fact, any part of the Basque Country in which evapotranspiration levels reach 585 millimeters (23 inches), indicating a temperate Atlantic climate, are potentially suitable for cultivating the pepper.
Like the aforementioned Ezpeleta peppers, these chilies were originally left to mature until they turned red, and indeed this is still done today, although in this latter case it is more typical in Bizkaia to dry them for later use in soups and garnishes. The green variety, however, is prepared freshly, with the classic preparation being to fry them and add a little salt at the end. They can be served separately, as an appetizer, or as an accompaniment to a main dish such as steak.
The green chilies of Ibarra–piperrak or piperminak in Basque, guindillas in Spanish–are slightly longer (2-5 inches) and thinner than those of Gernika, and are popularly referred to as the “king prawns of Ibarra.” They are typically planted in April or May and harvested any time between July and November, whenever they are judged to be at their optimum level. As with the Gernika peppers a typical dish involves frying the Ibarra peppers and adding a little salt at the end, serving them as an aperitif or appetizer. In contrast to their Bizkaian counterparts, however, Ibarra peppers are also pickled in wine vinegar and sold commercially in jars. Pickled Ibarra peppers can also be served as an appetizer, adding a little extra virgin olive oil, and they also form an integral part of one of the classic Basque pintxos: the Gilda – a combination of olives, salty anchovies, and peppers.