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Dried and Fried

August 24, 2010

It’s good to have a food importer in the family.  Sure, my cousin in Sicily, the former cheesemonger, is incredibly delinquent on his guest post, but he has other redeeming qualities.  Not least of which is that he is a good sharer.

I will never forget the jamón ibérico de bellota that he brought up from Philadelphia.  But this isn’t about that.

Actually, what I want to tell you about today didn’t come from my cousin directly, but rather indirectly from his mother.  She too is a really good sharer.  And she gave me a bag of Masseria Mirogallo Peperoni Cruschi from Basilicata.

This, by the way, is one of those authentic regional Italian foods that would go very well on a menu that promises such things. Granted, you may be unfamiliar with these like I was, so after the jump is a bit of gratuitous food porn.

Oddly, the below comes from another food importer, Manicaretti:

These peppers are harvested during the peak hot months of summer, the end of July until the end of September. When the peppers are at the perfect stage of ripeness they hang heavy on the plant, taking on a deep red color with a glossy finish to the skin.  The harvesting of the peppers is very labor intensive being picked by hand over very rugged terrain.  After harvesting, the peppers are strung into large wreaths that are then placed under the intense rays of the summer sun for 20-25 days.   When the peppers are dry and wrinkled the wreaths are taken apart and the peppers are fried in local olive oil until the skin is deep brick red with a soft leather-like texture.  The pepper are then packaged for and stored for use over the winter months.

Preservation of foods by sun drying and similar techniques, like immersing in olive oil or covering in salt, have been done for centuries to extend the crops for the cold months.  Preserved foods take on a new life quite different from their original fresh form.  These aromatic peppers bring a new complexity of flavors to winter greens, braised and roasted meats and pasta. The locals refer to the aromatic and spicy pepper as “Cruschi”. In Lucania the peppers are eaten as an appetizer much like toasted nuts.  “Cruschi” are often coarsely ground in a mortar & pestle and sprinkled over fried eggs in olive oil. The peppers add incredible flavor to the classic spaghetti aglio, olio e pepperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers).

After enjoying these for dinner last night, I may need to soften my strong stance against preserving summer’s bounty for use in the fallow seasons.  Somehow drying and frying seem different from canning or freezing.  Ultimately, I’m glad that people engage in these preparations.  It is just that you will not find me tying up wreaths of peppers to dry.  I’ll be the one eating all the fresh peppers when nobody is looking.

Surely Aesop wrote some fable about that.

Anyhow, I’m feeling pretty good, because in the past a fancy gourmet ingredient like these peppers would be sitting around my pantry for months, if not years.  They are pretty precious, and I would try to hold onto them for a special occasion.  Invariably the right occasion never seems to come around.

The plan had simply been to crumble the peppers over some pasta with oil and garlic.  That is, until I learned that there is a dish named after the region where these peppers are grown.  I’m certain that I did not do justice to pasta Basilicata, but I think I probably got pretty close for a weeknight, given the ingredients I had on hand.

I toasted four slices of hearty bread and put them into the Cuisinart to make bread crumbs.  These were then fried in extra virgin olive oil, and reserved for later. Two anchovy filets were melted in additional olive oil, to which I then added a few cloves of chopped garlic. The Peperoni Cruschi were quickly pulsed in the food processor and mixed with the breadcrumbs.  I went with large pasta shells, which were cooked in well-salted water and tossed with the oil.  The hot pasta was topped with the breadcrumbs and peppers with a generous shaving of pecorino Romano.

Mrs. Fussy approved.  The dish had a decidedly different flavor profile than any other Italian pasta dish we’ve ever eaten.  But it was delicious, and went great with our humble bottle of Coppola Rosso.

More than anything, it makes me wonder what a professional chef, and a much deeper knowledge of Italian cuisine, could do with this ingredient.  There is no reason that a chef in Albany couldn’t make such a dish.  Especially if that chef is working in a restaurant that wants to, “Show the true roots of Italian cuisine, every region of Italy.”

Well, Basilicata is a region. And what better way to represent it than by its eponymous dish.  Mr. Lule, if you are reading, for your consideration I submit the above.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sarah M. permalink
    August 24, 2010 2:09 pm

    (Slightly) closer to home– Hatch green chiles are in season! Make an enchilada and pretend you’re in Austin.

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