As Robert Palmer once sang, *Some Like It Hot. I’m not talking about love or lust…just yet. I’m talking about sun, sand, and surf. We moan and groan over occasional heat waves, but admit it. If summer turned a cold shoulder, we would be equally upset, as was the case for many Italians this year.
Summer 2014 in Italy was a whopping disappointment, a thorn in tourism’s side, with unpredictable weather, severe flooding as far north as Verona, stretching all the way down the boot into the southern isles. Having visited again this year, I can attest to it, finding myself on the balcony one evening donning of all things, a light sweater. I felt it under the heavy rain as I raced for cover, saw it among fading tan lines and frowns, and certainly heard it loud and clear over coffee and choral whining.
Under “normal” circumstances, Sicilian summers are notorious for scorching temps that carry well into early fall, followed by the usual Mediterranean scirocco.
Scirocco (pronounced “she- roh- coh”), is a mixed bag of winds and a subtropical high that originate in Arabia and the Sahara Desert. Continental and maritime air mix, then travel across southern Europe, scattering nasty storms, cold and wet weather all over the place.
Mother Nature can certainly challenge travelers and test tempers but “seeing red” doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.
Chili eating contests, jewelry, the “Miss Chili Pageant”, love and sex potions… are you smiling yet? If so, then you will love the annual Peperoncino festival in Diamante, Calabria, most recently featured on CNN. The almighty red pepper flake has inspired such festivities throughout the region for good reason. For centuries, Italians have boasted its medicinal properties, with studies indicating potential relief from arthritis, even positive effects on blood cholesterol. But that’s not all. Red hot chili peppers can be quite pleasurable, having aphrodisiac-like qualities, the kind that stimulate blood circulation in certain, um, areas. Who knew Vitamin C could be so good for you? And for foodies with spicy tendencies, peperoncino guarantees a lip-smacking experience, lending a spark of flavor to vegetables, fish and pasta. Che buono!
So who has the best red hot chili peppers? Well, supposedly they come from Calabria and Basilicata, but do not tell that to my father-in-law or any Sicilian, who firmly believes that their pipi russi are equal too, if not better than all the rest!
One night I sat with him on the terrace and exchanged some friendly, heated and humorous thoughts on politics and global economic woes; basically it was ulcer-provoking discourse, a perfect treat before bedtime. Coincidentally we should have eaten hot peppers…contrary to popular belief, they actually help prevent ulcers.
As luck would have it, I spotted it! Just across the way, there was a small mason jar of olio al peperoncino or red hot chili pepper oil. Maybe it was because of how exquisite it tasted over afternoon pasta or the velvety red color that lured me from my seat. Maybe it was just the dire need to change conversational gears before we both burst. Whatever the reason, I had to ask him, ”how do you make this sinfully good concoction?”
Our chitchat ended with a furiously scribbled recipe, smiles all around and an approving wink. In this part of the world, genuine interest equals mutual respect and like many here, my father-in-law takes it quite seriously. The next morning I found one kilo (a little over 2 lbs) of fresh peperoncino in the kitchen, a parting gift to take home. With a bit of luck and whole lot of prayers I somehow managed to fit the entire bag into my luggage. Nothing was left behind. No spillage to report. Otherwise, I really would have been peeved.
I hope this recipe for Olio al Peperoncino leaves you “seeing red” too. Give it a whirl and enjoy!
P.S. Grazie Mario con tutto il mio cuore!
*For Your Audible Pleasure: The Power Station – Robert Palmer- Some Like It Hot