Chillies Preserved in Oil (Peperoncini Sott’Olio)
The signature flavour of Neapolitan cooking is peperoncino rather than garlic. Although the smell of sautéd garlic may be one that pervades the air in Naples, it is in fact used sparingly, often as a whole clove to flavour olive oil and then discarded. Fresh parsley is used as a foil to the pungent flavour, making for a more subtle taste. Peperoncini, on the other hand, have a far more strident flavour. From early summer the first crops of the local red chilli appear in the markets and are strung outside every kitchen window to dry in the sun, ready for the whole year ahead. They are rarely used in the raw state; Neapolitan cooks understand the power of their own dried chillies and break off just as much as their dishes require. Every summer I dry three or four bunches by hanging them above my cooker then use them as I need them.
This recipe is adapted from Patience Gray’s Honey from a Weed, a longtime favourite book of mine. You really have to make sure you prepare these properly as they can go mouldy and spoil. If you are not a pickle-maker, or are worried about the risk, it might be best to buy a jar of ready-made chillies in oil.
- 4–5 bunches red peperoncini (dried chillies) or 400 g small, hot round chillies
- sea salt
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 2 large garlic cloves
- extra virgin olive oil
Wearing rubber gloves, wash the chillies and break off the stalk. Rub them with salt, then cover and set aside for 24 hours.
Sterilise a Kilner jar by boiling it in water for 5 minutes and drying it in a cool oven.
Drain the liquid from the chillies and place them in the sterilised jar. Add the bay leaves and garlic. Cover with olive oil and seal.
Keep refrigerated, and be careful that you keep the jar clean as you use them as they can go mouldy.