What Kind of Chili is That?
Those small red peppers you see in the pizzerias come from the Calabria region of Italy, south of Naples, and you can almost taste the sun and warmth that nurtured it. It’s the Calabrian chili pepper, commonly used in Italian cuisine—and one of the stars of our show here as a topping for the build-your-own pizzas at Pizzeria Locale. It’s also the main ingredient in our Calabrian Chili oil and the spicy chicken marinade.
One of the world’s most versatile and remarkable peppers, the Calabrian combines fruity, spicy, and salty tastes, leaving a delightful lasting impression on your tongue.
Pretty as a picture
This pepper was first introduced to Italy by Spanish visitors, and it took (with gusto!) to the soil and climate of Calabria—the dry, warm climate in the “toe” of Italy’s boot which is ideal for growing hot peppers. At first, however, people were more interested in what the chili pepper looked like than how it tasted: the Calabrian was used as a home decoration (and it still is) before it was ever introduced into the region’s cuisine!
There’s a reason for that: these peppers are remarkably attractive. They’re fairly small (one to two inches overall), intensely dark red, and have a conical, elongated body tapering to one end. They really look like what most of the world imagines southern Italian peppers to be: warm, bright, welcoming. But once Italian cooks got hold of the chili peppers, they became a staple in regional cooking—in fact, in the town of Diamante there’s an annual Festival del Peperoncino every September that celebrates the Calabrian chili pepper, with workshops about peppers, contests, music and live performances, and, of course, pepper tastings!
But what about that taste?
Calabrian chili peppers are grown on overhanging vines and are left there slightly longer than are other peppers. As they mature, their flavor becomes fruitier and tangier, with even a slightly smoky taste, while at the same time the intensity of the spiciness increases. It’s a heady combination.
It’s their flavor, combined with the spice, that makes Calabrian chili peppers so special and so versatile: they’re hot enough to spice up a sandwich, but don’t overpower other flavors in any main dish.
How hot are they?
Calabrian peppers are a medium-hot chili (25,000 to 40,000 Scoville heat units). To put that in perspective, they’re between three and 16 times hotter than Jalapeño peppers; they’re generally considered slightly milder than cayenne peppers. Far more important than the heat, however, is the taste: Calabrian chilies are well within the culinary sweet spot for spiciness and pack a great deal more flavor than the neutral-tasting cayenne. Heat isn’t everything!
What we do with Calabrian chilies
At Pizzeria Locale, we marinate our spicy chicken in Calabrian chili peppers. But there are so many things you can do with them at home that we’ve made them part of our Pizzeria Locale pantry, and you can head over there to pick up chili oil or a jar of chili peppers, ready for your next pasta dish, sandwich, or pizza. We know that once you taste it, you’ll start thinking of a hundred uses for this versatile little pepper around the kitchen. It can be blended with sauces for concentrated side dishes or served as a condiment to perk up your next sandwich or salad. Add it to hummus or avocado, or blend it with melted cheese for a fantastic dip. It perks up vegetables from kale to broccoli to cauliflower, and can be contrasted with cheese and even yogurt. But really—the sky is the limit! We’ve seen it used on a beef burger under a serving of goat cheese, and the flavors are an amazing complement to each other.
But are they good for me?
Actually, yes! Their nutritional values make Calabrian chili peppers a very healthy choice. They’re rich with vitamins A, B6, and C. They also have high quantities of potassium, iron, magnesium, and capsaicin, providing the perfect chemical compound for helping circulation and digestion.
Mostly, though, as you’ve probably gathered, besides being good for you, Calabrian chili peppers are just plain tasty. Enjoy them at any of our Pizza Locale locations, and check out the pantry for Calabria-to-go!