Spicy means one thing here in the toe of Italy's boot, and that's the beloved peperoncino, literally "little pepper" in Italian.
It's the chile pepper, the heat, the heart of Calabrian cooking, and a group of them are thrown on the table with just about every meal.
To say that dedication to the peperoncino borders on obsession is not an exaggeration--I know men who carry peperoncini in their pockets to restaurants in case the provided peppers aren't appropriately piccanti.
No joke amici. Don't mess with the pep'.
Here in my house, we have a steady supply of fresh peperoncini through the summer from our own plants, but for when they're out of season, it's also popular to keep them under oil:
Although we all love hot peppers down here, there's one particular village in Calabria closely associated with the pods that pack a punch--Diamante, in the province of Cosenza, home of the annual Festival del Peperoncino held by the Accademia Italiana del Peperoncino.
I've never been (fellow blogger Judy has and there's another great report here), but apparently everyone in Diamante gets involved with peperoncino-inspired jewelry being a big seller (good to keep away the malocchio you know).
Admission is free, and you can visit over 100 stands set up along the gorgeous lungomare along the Tyrrhennian Sea. Foods range from a cornetto al peperoncino (pastry filled with a peppery cream) to tartufo piccante (ice cream with bits of peperoncini), and there's even a pepper eating contest, "Campionato italiano mangiatori di peperoncini," for the competitive types.
So, for anyone looking to spice up their Italian experience, this year's festival will be held September 5-9.
Back here at the home office, you'll see peperoncino in many of my What's Cooking Wednesday recipes, but even if you don't like spicy food, here's a tip: just a little bit of the stuff brings out the flavor of just about anything without adding heat.
Don't be afraid!
Also, if your mouth is burning from too much hotness, eat a piece of bread or something dairy-like instead of reaching for water. The heat in hot peppers is really an oil; water moves around the burning sensation but it doesn't counteract it.
If you'll be dealing with a large number of peppers, use disposable gloves. The oils of the peppers are very good at working their way into your pores and can be quite difficult to just wash away--bleach and water, salted water, or toothpaste, believe it or not, are your best bets.
Please be especially careful if you wear contact lenses.
Trust me. I've learned this the hard way.
Any more questions? Fire away! Hah!