If you were to wander into certain southern Italian villages towards the end of the summer, you’d likely catch the quaint and colourful spectacle of peppers strung up and hanging out to dry. Just a chain or two by the door, produce of a family vegetable patch, or racks and racks of them where local businesses pack and ship them to delis and restaurants all over Italy and, yes, beyond.
They’re the gastronomic pièce de résistance of a corner of Basilicata, with their grand cru in Senise and an EU Protected Geographical Indication, no less. Small and red, elongated, pointy and sometimes curved, with very little flesh to get your teeth into, they’ve been grown here for centuries and preserved for the winter months by desiccation.
Meet… i peperoni cruschi !
Once dehydrated, some are pulverized to make a local kind of paprika, added to flavour the pork used in salami or focaccia dough. But their true vocation, their highest thing, is to be fried whole (which requires not a little practice – they’re so utterly wizened they char within seconds) and salted. Then do they come into their own, crisp and divine as a side dish, or broken over pasta and pulses, baccalà, potatoes, the humble fried egg, etcetera.
Stop in Senise for insider knowledge.
Photos by Mike Corey and Nathan Miller for Digital Diary #2 Basilicata on our very own Can’t Forget Italy.