Cooking with O.C. Chefs: Schooled on Tapas-style Rellenos

The Orange County Register


July 1, 2015

Cathy Thomas

The allure of piquillo peppers is more than just their bright red color and sweet, seductive flavor. Fire-roasted, peeled, seeded and packed in jars or cans, the mild Spanish chilies are convenient ready-to-use wonders. No spicier than a bell pepper, they measure about 2-3 inches from shoulder to tip.

In tapas bars throughout Spain they are everyday fare, stuffed with cheese, meat or seafood. On local turf, I’m partial to Michael Campbell’s piquillos that are filled to the brim with vibrant components. Campbell, executive chef at Pueblo in Costa Mesa, offers his own twist on the pepper-based delicacies at this modern-yet-intimate tapas eatery.

“The piquillos rellenos are one of the most popular dishes on our menu,” he explained when he made a visit to my home kitchen to show me how to prepare them. “They are an interesting blend of my Baltimore roots and my experience working the line in a restaurant in Barcelona. Stuffed piquillos are a very traditional tapa, so at first I wanted to stay away from them (on the Pueblo menu) … initially they didn’t seem creative enough. But then I dreamed up my own version.”

The heart of his filling is Atlantic cod and Spanish Tetilla, a soft and creamy cow’s milk cheese. They bake in a shallow puddle of onion sauce that bubbles up around them as they heat. The garnish includes a crown of relish made of preserved lemon, shallot, Fresno chili and capers. Aleppo pepper, chopped chives, fennel fronds and fennel pollen cap off the dish, adding both color and flavor bling.

Piquillo peppers are sold at specialty markets such as Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa. Campbell says that if you want to roast and peel your own, substitute sweet mini peppers, those small mixed-colored (red, orange, yellow) fresh peppers often packaged in cellophane bags.

Although it isn’t exactly the same, an acceptable substitute for Tetilla is havarti. Tetilla cheese is sold at or can be ordered from a local cheese shop if they don’t stock it...

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