On recent forays into the Motherland of Lucania (the region of Basilicata, which locals still refer to by its ancient name) I became quite enamored by the local delicacy of peperoni cruschi. The dialect name is paparul crushk, a word that sounds more German than Italian to my ears, but spells delicious whatever way they prefer to pronounce it. The strings of peppers that one sees hanging in the sun to dry are not as fiery as you might think. While they do like the piccanti variety, those are distinctly smaller and not revered as highly as these babies. The longer red peppers are, in fact, a variety of sweet peppers that are strung up much like the chile ristras so common around New Mexico, left to harden in the southern sun.
Once dry they are carefully removed from their stems and fried in extra virgin olive oil, tended to carefully so as not to scorch them. They are then served as an antipasto, and delicious they are, too! Sweet and smoky at the same time, the crunchy treats compliment the local cheese and prosciutto nicely.
Once they are fried, the peperoni cruschi are also crumbled and added to sautéed breadcrumbs then sprinkled over pasta, such as the locally-loved orecchiette.
Back to the hot chile, the slender pods are also dried, but are then preserved in a unique way. They, too, are fried in extra virgin olive oil and then crumbled. They are put in a jar and then the oil used to fry them is poured over the top. Simple, but it infuses the oil with spice as well as the unusual smoky-hot flavor. It is drizzled on cavatelli, on roasted potatoes, and on the local semolina bread.
We just returned from a trip to Basilicata; my cousin there went knocking on doors to rustle up some strings of peperoni for me to bring home. They are drying, but when they're ready I'll fry some up and add some photos.
c 2007 Valerie Schneider