Calabria is a region of Italy renowned for its hot weather and hot night life, it’s also well known for its hot pepper, the Calabrian chilli. It’s a small chilli but packs some flavor and punch into its flesh.
Unlike most peppers, its spice isn’t the main flavor – there are a lot of complex tasting notes to the Calabrian chilli that makes it special and enjoyed by many for its uniqueness among other chilli peppers.
This chilli has all the flavor, smokiness and sweetness of a Calabrian summer night.
Like most other peppers they come in fresh and preserved forms for immediate or future use, they are definitely worth having in your pantry.
They are commonly confused with ‘Calabrese chillies’, these are the same thing, ‘Calabrese’ simply means ‘of Calabria’ in Italian. The chilli is also commonly referred to as ‘Diavolicchio’ pepper by Italians, which means ‘little devil’.
The Calabrian chilli is Ferrari red, and is a long but metay pepper that hangs from overarching vines. In the summer, when mature, they are succulent and large and become sweet from the Calabrian sun.
They look like you classic red sweet pepper, but once you bite in you will find a whole world of unique flavor.
Like most chillies the predominant flavor is that of the pectin that is rife in chillies. Once the mild spiciness passess, the pepper’s frutiness emerges which is sweet.
There is a smoky and slaty finish to the pepper that is unique and not common in Italian peppers or chilli peppers. This is a pretty authentically Italian taste that is perfect in a sandwich with other smokey and salty deli meats, or in any classic pasta dish.
This is perfect for having a European or Italian take on dishes such as Chilli or an Italian style salsa. The smokiness and sweetness means the pepper is perfect for a dish such as mole style sauce for braising meat.
Many people enjoy using this chilli in collaboration with other chilis that have more spice as it can complement other peppers quite well with its unique taste.
How Spicy Is It?
The Calabrian chilli pepper is a chilli that has a medium level of heat. Its scoville rating is between 25,000 to 40,000 Scoville units, which is medium in comparison to the very hot chilli peppers.
Calabrian chillies aren’t really known for their heat, rather, they are known for their interesting flavor profile. It’s the chilli’s smokiness and fruitiness, which compliments its moderate spice, that people seek in this pepper.
Made in the foot of the boot of Italy, the Calabrian chili is a product of Calabria, a region in Italy. Italy isn’t particularly known for its peppers, but the Calabrian chilli is an exception.
The region is well known for the pepper and you can find the epicentre of Calabrian chilli dishes and culinary usage in the capital of Calabria, Catanzaro.
They are so popular in Italy they are the main attraction of the annual peperoncino festival held in Diamante, Calabria. Since 1992 people have celebrated the peppers and chillies at this four day festival.
The festival includes many bohemian shows such as plays and dances as well as various eating contests and spice challenges. If you’re chilli mad this could be worth looking into, even if just for the sun and Italian good vibes.
One of the most traditional and popular uses of Calabrian chilli within Italy is using it to make Nduja. The smokiness of Calabrian peppers is what endows Nduja with its salty, sweet, smokiness that makes this meat paste stand out within the sausage world.
The chillies are dried and pulverised into a powder and then rubbed and massaged into the cured pork mince. This Nduja sausage is used in a plethora of Italian dishes such as on top of pizza and in many stuffed pastas as well as aperitivos.
Similarly, Calabrian chilli peppers are often made into a chilli paste which has multiple applications. Such a chilli paste can be used on a wide variety of meats to impart its smoky flavor and sweetness to meats which are added to a whole world of Italian dishes.
For the vegetarians amongs us, don’t fear – Calabrian chilies are used widely in vegetarian dishes for the meatiness that the smokiness and sweetness can impart in a dish. Calabrian chillies are often chargrilled and then preserved in olive oil or vinegar.
A great vegetarian application of this chili is to chargrill them for extra smokiness and then stuff them with cheese. A Mexican cheese like Huacan or Queso Manchego go perfectly with the smokiness of the Calabrian chilli
Another great and easy use for the Calabrian chilli is to use it to make chilli oil. This is really easy and has a wide variety of uses you’ll never tire of.
Simply add some finely chopped chillies to a jar of oil, seed and all, and refrigerate for a few days. The chillies will slowly imbue to oil with its smoky sweet flavor. The oil is then perfect for drizzling over salads, onto pizza, and cooking meat with.
Another, perhaps more modern, use of the Calabrian is to make Calabrian Chilli Mayo. The fattiness and dairy quality of the mayonnaise is perfect counterbalance for the mild heat, sweetness and smokiness of the Calabrian chilli.
This the perfect spicy but rich condiment for a grilled cheese or in a tuna salad for a smokey change.
Obviously, like most common chillies, the Calabrian chilli is utilised in many hot sauces to add smokiness and sweetness to the sauces, often in combination with other peppers or simply on its own for an italian hot sauce to rival Sriracha.
Growing Calabrian Chillies
Seeds for the Calbrian chilli can certainly be hard to find and aren’t readily available as other pepper and chilli varieties.You should plant your seed in March or April, in line with your climate’s season at the time.
Calabrian chillies grow in Italy so they need a rich soil with a lot of nutrients. Recognising the plant’s natural habitat is the south of Italy, we understand that the Calabrian chilli peppers need lots of sunlight and heat. To ensure constant sun, prune the higher leaves regularly.
As a result of this constant heat and sunlight, these peppers need constant watering. One tip is to let the soil dry completely before watering again in order to avoid stagnating water issues.
The plant will typically pick up diseases from stagnating water, or overwatering, that will result in recognisably yellow and dry leaves. You can avoid this even further with the introduction of antiparasitic soil, or simply make sure the soil is rich in nutrients and not to over water the plant.
Although, thanks to the pectin, slugs and snails, as well as other pests, will generally leave the fruit alone but could eat away at leaves.
The fruit of the plant will start off green and thin and with the introduction of sun and heat the peppers will grow into red and tender fruits that are large and measure around 2-3cm or 2 inches.
The redder the pepper the more sweet they will be. If you want your Calbrian chilli peppers to be spicier than let the soil dry completely before you choose to harvest the plant, or simply harvest before watering, this will increase the pectin levels of the pepper greatly.