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Gourmet Pastas and Sauces on-line

are you feeling hot, hot, hot?
peppers can heat in the winter and cool in the summer

by Laura Pazzaglia
(return to food)

The frost still nips at our toes in February but this month brings the promise of spring and warmer days. If you can't hurry the heat outside, why not create it inside? Here's all you need to know from cooking to decorating with hot peppers.

Although peppers are originally from the American continent Italians integrated this little spice in cuisine enthusiastically. The first chiles where brought to Europe about 500 years ago by Christopher Columbus. It's interesting to note that chile peppers (and tomatoes) never quite caught on with the American colonists and only became popular in the United States when Italian immigrants brought them "back" here.

Today, hundreds of chile pepper varieties are available. They vary in degrees of "heat" from none (as in sweet peppers) to so hot that they are used in weapons (hot pepper spray).

Safety Tips
Peppers generate their heat from an oil called Capsaicin . Whether handling fresh or dried peppers be sure to not to touch your eyes, mouth or... use the bathroom until you have washed your hands carefully using soap. Also, if you've bitten into something that is too spicy a mouthful of milk, rice, or bread should offer some immediate relief -- water won't work because the aim is to absorb the oil, not spread it around your mouth.

Growing Your Own
Hot pepper plants are very decorative and easy to grow. You can pick-up little plants at your local nursery starting in April or plant seeds as early as March--plant seeds indoors and put them on top of your refrigerator (to keep their feet warm) until the sprout  and then move the little plantlet to a warm sunny place. 

You can try the seeds that already come with red-pepper flakes but, unless your flakes are organic, it's possible that the flakes and seeds have been coated with a preservtive that may prevent the seed from sprouting. Hot peppers are happy in terra cotta pots,  nutrient-rich potting soil, and a sunny spot (indoors our out).

Harvest the peppers while they're still green and lay them out to dry in a dry and dark place -- they will change color off the plant -- or wait until they turn red to harvest for a slightly milder flavor.

Pepper Crafts
You can make something quite special with either home-grown or store-bought hot peppers. All you need  to make a hot pepper swag is assorted peppers (fresh or dry), fishing wire or polyester thread, and Sewing Needle -- the longer the better. Just use your needle to poke a hole in the wider (stem) end of the pepper and pull them through as though making a bead necklace.  You may want to do patterns with various sizes or color.  Turn both the beginning and the end of the thread into a hoop and hang -- if the peppers are fresh, be sure that the swag doesn't touch the wall -- the peppers need air circulation in order to dry.  You can hang your swag from a hook in the ceiling, kitchen window, etc. Consume within two years.


Chile Peppers: 2003 Wall Calendar

more calendars...


The Great Chile Book

The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia: Everything You'll Ever Need to Know

Eat the Heat

more books...

UCLA Medicinal Spices Exhibit

Scoville Heat Scale for Hot Peppers

Cooking with hot peppers
Remember than when cooking with hot peppers and hot pepper flakes a little goes a long way. Hot pepper in recipes is used to give a little heat to a dish and shouldn't overpower it so that you can't taste the other ingredients. And finally, if your diners tolerate different levels of "heat", consider following the recipes and offering extra "hot pepper" flakes at the table.

Here is a compilation of recipes from Alice's collection, as well as one of my own -- they are all bound to generate heat at your kitchen table.

Laura's Olio Piccante - Laura's Hot Oil
You can use fresh ingredients but be sure to evaporate all of the water from the ingredients during cooking, refrigerate and consume within a week. Using dried ingredients ensures that no bacteria can grow in the "water" released from the fresh ingredients and will make your oil last about three months.

1 Decorative Bottle
1/2 cup of Olive Oil (you will be heating this up, you don't want to "cook" your good extra virgin olive oil)
1 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 TBS of dried red pepper flakes
2 TBS of dried oregano
1 TBS of garlic powder

Put the 1/2 cup of oil on very low heat, add the pepper flakes, oregano and garlic powder -- leaving a pinch of each aside for later. If the oil begins to boil turn off the heat and move the pan to a cool location (my gas stove burns too hot so I do about 7 iterations of putting the oil on the low flame and removing it when it begins to boil). Strain the flakes, garlic and oregano.  Now, put a pinch of pepper, oregano and garlic flakes in the decorative bottle.  Pour the strained oil into the bottle and fill up the rest with raw (uncooked) Extra Virigin Oilve Oil.

You can use this oil for the, now fashionable, bread dipping or put a dash of it in any pasta sauce to give it an extra zing .


Spinaci Rifatti - Recooked Spinach
Spinach goes very well with roasted meats, and if you're eating in an old-fashioned home or restaurant in Northern Italy, you may well be served it with a sprinkling of the drippings from the roast.

Two pounds fresh spinach, washed well
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic, halved and crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Pick over the spinach, removing and discarding tough ribs, and coarsely chop the leaves. Heat it in a pot until it has wilted and drain it well, squeezing it to remove most of the water.

Heat the oil in a pan with the garlic, and once it begins to crackle, add the spinach in one fell swoop. Stir vigorously, season with salt and pepper to taste, and when it is heated through it is done.
Serves 4


Acqua Cotta - Tuscan Vegetable Soup 1 large red onion or 1 leek, roughly chopped
1 1/2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 lb. Swiss chard, cleaned and torn in half, or 1/2 oz. porcini mushrooms, soaked and drained
Half of a peperoncino or any hot red pepper, fresh or dried
1/2 cup tomato pulp (seeded, juiced, and chopped if fresh or drained and diced if canned)
3 cups simmering water
sea salt
2 eggs (preferably organic)
2 slices rustic, country-style bread, lightly toasted
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Tuscan pecorino cheese

Place the toasted bread in two soup bowls. Place the onion and celery in a 3-quart, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive pot. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and stir to coat. Cook over a medium-low heat, or until the onion is translucent but not brown. Add Swiss chard (or porcinis, if using) and stir briefly to wilt. Add hot pepper, tomatoes, and simmering water. Season lightly with salt and cook over a low heat (barely a simmer) for 20 minutes, until vegetables are very soft.

As vegetables are cooking, bring about an inch of water and a half teaspoon of salt to a boil in a deep skillet. At the end of the vegetables' cooking time, turn the skillet heat down to a gentle simmer. Add the parsley to the soup.

Break the eggs into a small bowl, one at a time, and slide them into the simmering water. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the whites are set, but the yellow is still runny. When done, use a large slotted spoon to place one egg on each toast slice in bowls. Ladle broth and vegetables over each egg and top with a generous sprinkling of the cheese.

Serves 2.


Fettucine ai Quattro Formaggi
Except for the Parmesan cheese, which is pretty much a requirement, this can be made with any number of four-cheese combinations.

1 pound spinach fettuccine
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
2/3 cup grated provolone cheese
1/2 cup crumbled soft fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite.Meanwhile, combine cream and next 6 ingredients in heavy large sauce-pan. Whisk over medium heat until mixture simmers and is smooth. Drain pasta; return to same pot. Add cream sauce and Parmesan to pasta; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.

Serves 8.

Spaghetti Col Pesto Alla Trapanese - Pasta With Almond and Basil Pesto From Trapani
Discover this spicy pesto sauce from Trapani. Dazzling to taste, incredibly simple to prepare, it is a sensational Sicilian alternative to the winning Ligurian combination. You can keep this pesto for two or three days in the refrigerator or freeze and keep it for two or three months.  

1 cup blanched almonds
1 teaspoon
sea salt
4 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 cup or 50 large leaves of fresh basil
5 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 small (about 1-1/4 pounds) tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 quarts of water
1-1/4 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 lb spaghetti

If you are making this is a food processor, set the almonds and sea salt in the bowl fitted with the steel blade. Grind together until they are so fine they are almost a coarse flour. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the water, coarse salt and spaghetti and process until they are a creamy sauce.

If you are making this in a marble mortar, pound the almonds with a pestle. Add the salt, garlic cloves, basil, parsley and red pepper flakes and crush them well. Transfer to a bowl, mix in the tomatoes and amalgamate the mixture with the oil.

Bring a large pot with at least 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil, add 1-1/4 tablespoons coarse sea salt and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and toss with the pesto on a warmed serving platter. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

Spaghetti alle olive verde - Spaghetti with Green Olive Sauce
6 T extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup freshly grated bread crumbs
3 salted anchovies or 6 oil-packed anchovy fillets
3 garlic cloves
1/2 small dried hot red chile pepper, crumbled, or 1/4 t
crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup coarsely chopped pitted green olives (about 1 lb whole olives)
salt to taste
1 lb spaghetti

Put a teaspoon of the olive oil in a small saucepan and toast the bread crumbs in the oil over medium heat for a few minutes, until they are golden brown and crisp. Remove from the heat and set aside. If you are using salted anchovies, rinse them under running water to rid them of salt, strip away the bones, and chop coarsely; if using anchovy fillets, simply chop them. In 3 tablespoons of the remaining oil, saut´┐Ż the garlic cloves over medium heat until they are brown. Add the chopped anchovies and, using a fork, stir and crush them into the oil. Crumble the chile pepper into the oil. Remove the garlic cloves and discard. Stir the olives into the oil and let cook for about 3 minutes, just long enough to mix the flavors. Set aside. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Drop in the spaghetti and cook until done-10 to 12 minutes. As the pasta finishes cooking, reheat the olive sauce. Drain the pasta and turn into a heated serving bowl. Add the remaining olive oil and the toasted bread crumbs to the olive sauce and toss with the pasta. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 - 6.


Baked Polenta With Mushrooms
6 c Polenta, cooked
1 ea Garlic clove, quartered
2 tb Olive oil
1 lb Mushrooms, sliced
2 tb Basil, chopped
1 pn Dried red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

Spoon polenta into an oiled 8" X 12" baking dish & set aside.

Saute garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat until garlic begins to brown. About 5 minutes. Remove garlic with a slotted spoon & discard. Add mushrooms & saute in flavoured oil until they soften. They will only need 5 minutes or so. Stir in the basil, red pepper, salt & pepper. Spread evenly over prepared polenta & bake for 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Polenta with Red Pepper Sauce
Grind a clove of garlic in a food processor. Add 1 cup roasted bell pepper strips (jarred OK), 1/2 cup loosely packed Italian parsley leaves, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, pinch red pepper flakes, and 1 tablespoon each olive oil, wine vinegar and tomato paste. Whirl until pureed.

Top broiled or fried polenta triangles (instructions here) with thin slices of fontina or Monterey Jack cheese and broil. If desired, broil prawns to go alongside. Serve with the red pepper sauce.


Cacciucco is a fish stew made in the Tuscan port of Livorno, from whatever the fishmonger has that's fresh and inexpensive. It should have a healthy jolt of red pepper, and will sell you on fish if you don't like fish already.

11/2 to 2 pounds of mixed fish, whatever is in season (it needn't be expensive), for example, sole, mullet, catfish, dogfish, goby, squid, octopus, fresh shellfish (see The Joy of Cooking for treatment instructions), and shrimp.
Chop the large fish, but leave the small ones whole.
A half a medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic
A bunch of parsley, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound sliced fresh or canned plum tomatoes (if they're fresh, blanch and peel them)
2 tablespoons vinegar diluted in 3/4 cup of water
Salt and crumbled or minced hot red pepper to taste
Toasted Italian bread rubbed with garlic

Saute` the onion, parsley, and garlic in the oil in a deep bottomed pot. Once the onion has turned translucent, stir in the chopped tomatoes and season the mixture to taste. This is one of the few hot North Italian dishes, so don't feel you must be sparing with the red pepper. When the tomatoes are done, stir in the water and vinegar. Simmer the for a few more minutes and remove the garlic. Blend the sauce and return it to the fire with the fish, and, if you wish, sprinkle another tablespoon or two of olive oil into the pot. Simmer the cacciucco until the fish is done, 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, toast several slices of bread and rub them with a crushed clove of garlic. Once the fish is done, line the bottoms of your bowls with the toasted bread, ladle the cacciucco over them, and serve.

Serves four.


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