December is a month of many celebrations, both religious and secular. Often each celebration is accompanied by the serving of a particular food or dish. December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Roman Catholic Church, and marks the beginning of the Christmas holiday season and its wonderful dishes in Calabria. My town also has a non-religious celebration that day, known as “Perciavutta” day. The word “percia” means “to make a hole” and “vutta” means“barrel”; therefore “put a hole in the barrel”, and as I remember it when I lived in Calabria, Perciavutta is the day when all the townspeople that made wine that year would go to each other's cellars and taste the new wine. Two snacks are traditionally served to the guests. One is grispelle, in which dried peppers are softened and folded in yeasted dough. I'll be writing more about this Calabrian specialty as the holiday season continues. The second snack that is brought to the wine cellars is peperoni cruschi, called pipi arruschkati in my dialect.
For peperoni cruschi, you need sun-dried sweet Italian peppers. Peperoni di Senise are ideal but any dried sweet Italian pepper will work. In future posts, you will see how we use these dried peppers in various dishes throughout the winter months.
To make peperoni cruschi, first remove the seeds and stems from the dried peppers and cut into pieces. Place the cut peppers with some extra virgin olive oil in a pan. Toss to coat with the olive oil and place the pan over medium heat.
Keep on stirring them with a fork as the oil in the pan warms up. As soon as they puff up and become crispy you can remove them from the heat; be careful not to burn them. Add a sprinkle of salt and you're done. They are sweet and smoky, unbelievable good and downright addictive!
If you have bought peperoni cruschi that are packaged and exported, you've wasted your money. They need to be eaten as soon as they are prepared, not months later out of a cellophane bag. So plan to dry some sweet Italian peppers next summer or buy the whole dried peppers and then make this easy dish yourself.