Sweet — well, usually sweet — shishito peppers are cooked in olive oil until blistered and served with lemon and sea salt.
Several months ago, the invitation arrived to a dinner with Newbury Award-winning author Jack Gantos in Boston. It was a school night, a work night and four hours from where I live.
I said yes.
I mean, what else would you say to having dinner with a pretty rad children’s author with an impressive body of work? His book “Joey Pigza Swallowed a Key,” about a boy with ADHD, was somewhere between eye-opening and entertaining, and made me think about kids I grew up with who reminded me of Joey a bit.
What we didn’t expect was just how personable Jack Gantos, author of dozens of children’s books, would be.
But there he was, this wiry man, eating blistered shishito peppers with lemon and sea salt and telling us about his love of Maine, food, writing and his daughter, an art history major in college.
True be told, it was the shishito peppers that made me reach for my phone and start jotting thoughts down in my notes app during the dinner. Gantos was telling us how much he loves shishito peppers cooked in cast iron skillets, and how he makes them at home. (A squirt of lemon and a sprinkle of salt are essential, he said.) The conversation turned to another favorite recipe of his — oyster mushrooms cooked in olive oil with anchovies. As the anchovies cook, they almost melt, creating an amazing sauce for the mushrooms. Sounds divine.
As a food writer, I am drawn to other people’s passion for food. There’s something mesmerizing about hearing someone share a recipe that makes them so happy. Those are moments of connection — when flavor memories and love of the kitchen come together. And as I sampled the shishito peppers that night, I couldn’t wait to try making them in my own kitchen.
Ironically, when we got back and I dropped by the community garden, I realized I’d planted a shishito pepper plant, not really knowing what it was. So the peppers I ended up cooking? At least some of them came from our own garden.
But back to the dinner. Jack Gantos also told me that he loves Eataly Boston — a place my kids and I visited a few times on our trip to Boston earlier this year. According to him, it’s the best place for greens, mushrooms, wine and coffee. In my experience, it’s also a great option for traveling families for a less expensive but totally delicious dinner.
As much as I enjoyed hearing about the food, it was his stories about his experience in the publishing industry that really struck me. It’s amazing how small the world is and how interconnected people are — especially in industries like publishing. And when you’re someone like Jack Gantos, who has been writing for more than 40 years, you see that pretty acutely.
A fun fact about Jack Gantos: He writes in a library, overlooking the office where he got his first book deal. Something about that is just so right.
We were there to celebrate the upcoming release of his latest book, “Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories.” It’s written for kids ages 9 to 12, but I am psyched to read it myself. I’ve been writing since early childhood, and love crafting stories — from creative nonfiction and food blogs to news stories to fiction. Recently, my longtime dream of writing children’s books has been on my mind. If not now, when? And this book, filled with tips, illustrations, anecdotes and more makes me excited for the everyday inspiration all around me.
In the meantime, we’re eating Blistered Shishito Peppers with Lemon and Sea Salt at home.
Unlike Gantos, I made these in a trusted skillet that isn’t cast iron, though I bet they’d be even better in cast iron. Regardless, these are so easy to make and enjoy. Just heat olive oil in a skillet until it’s very hot but not smoking. Add the peppers and cook them until they’re blistered. Remove to a plate and sprinkle with sea salt. Then finish them with a squeeze of lemon juice. Easy peasy.
Are you familiar with shishito peppers? Typically they are sweet peppers. But every 10 to 20 peppers is spicy for some reason. It’s just how they grow — and you never know if you’re going to get that one with a shock of spiciness. It’s like the roulette of side dishes.
And that’s kind of fun too …
Thanks so much to Jack Gantos and his publisher for the wonderful dinner in Boston, the conversation and the lovely handwritten thank you note. That was pretty special too.
- olive oil
- shishito peppers
- sea salt
- lemon, cut into wedges
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a shallow skillet -- you want enough to coat the bottom of the pan. You want it very hot but not smoking.
- Add the shishito peppers and cook, turning once, until browned and blistered on all over. Remove to a plate and sprinkle with sea salt.
- Serve with lemon wedges.