For the past couple of years, one of my favorite go-to ingredients has been crushed Calabrian chili peppers. I’m definitely a spicy food lover, so when I first came across this zesty-fruity crushed pepper sauce at William Sonoma, I couldn’t get enough of it. I mail-ordered it in bulk. I just couldn’t be without it. I was and still am heavily addicted. Their moderate heat and aroma enhance food by allowing the flavors to shine through without overpowering them. This quickly became one of my much loved pantry staples. I started using it in my recipe development because I felt it added just the right amount of balanced hot, fruity, smoky, salty goodness. The problem was that I always had to give a substitution because, in the past, it was a challenging ingredient to find.
Then something marvelous happened. The jarred chili pepper sauce started appearing in some local markets like Trader Joe’s. I remember the first time seeing it on the shelf and thinking, “OK, don’t be your usual hasty self and buy out their entire inventory. Try it first, then come back (I love when I’m strategic).” Happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed, and yes, I did go back and almost buy them out, but I did leave a few jars for the participants in the virtual cooking class I taught last week. I repeat to you what I mentioned to my class; stir a bit into whatever you’re cooking and add more as you like to control the heat level what’s otherwise dramatically known in Calabria as the devil’s kiss.
As is often the case with this magical paste, it goes by many different names. For example, the Trader Joe’s version is called Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce. William Sonoma’s version is identified as Calabrian Chiles in Oil. Tutto Calabria brand calls it Crushed Calabrian Chili Peppers. And if by chance, you can only find a jar of whole small Calabrian peppers, buy it, and simply mince them before adding to your recipe. Be aware that price points vary. To date, I’ve found Trader Joe’s to be the most affordable at about $3.00 per jar.
Just a bit of fascinating background on the chili itself. Calabria, Italy, located in the long narrow toe of the country and is well known for its hot peppers. In fact, the pepper is so celebrated that the town of Diamante, Calabria, hosts its annual Peperoncino Festival during the second week of September. Imagine five incredible days of immersion, celebrating the star, red Calabrian chili. That’s pretty serious! A mainstay of Calabrian cuisine, these peppers are dried then ground or crushed, eaten raw or deep-fried until crisp. The jarred version I’m using is most common outside of its native Italy. The peppers, depending on the manufacturer, are usually crushed to a nice chunky texture, then combined with olive oil, vinegar or citric acid, salt, and herbs.
So, what can you do with this jarred little gem when you’re not adding them to one of my recipes? The possibilities are endless. Try it as a sandwich spread or a pizza topping. It’s especially delicious with eggs, as a topping for roasted vegetables, stirred into sauces, soups, or hummus. Add a bit to ground meat to give your next burger a flavor boost, stir some into pasta with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, a hit of butter, and halved cherry tomatoes for a satisfying simple meal. Add it to any kind of marinade for a dazzling kick. And after all that, if you have any left, you can try my Roasted Lemon Shrimp Scampi with Linguine recipe (one of Fine Cooking Magazine’s top ten popular recipes of 2019), located right here on this blog: https://chefdianaandrews.com/2020/01/12/one-of-the-top-ten/
Stay tuned for more recipes using Calabrian chile.