My last post was so recipe-laden that I thought it best to go easy with this one …
I was introduced to Olio Santo during my first visit to San Marino a little over 2 years ago. My cousin Maurizio offered to drizzle a bit of it on my linguine alla vongole, a dish Zia had prepared for me after I mentioned it was a favorite. I thoroughly enjoyed the oil and was told that Zia made it and that it was very easy to do. After a brief explanation, I knew that I’d be making it once I got home. I have ever since.
Red peperoncini are grown throughout Southern Italy but primarily in Calabria and Basilicata, the toe and instep of the Italian boot. Come August, you can often see the peperoncini hanging in large bunches, drying in the hot Mediterranean sun. Across the south, their name often contains a reference to the devil – i.e., diavolett, diabulillu, diavulicchuirefers, etc. With that naming convention, it makes perfect sense that an oil made with them should be called holy or sacred. Olio Santo does, in fact, translate to Holy Oil. Yes, perfect sense.
Trying to find the origin of Olio Santo was not such an easy task. It seems that everyone from Calabria to Abruzzo (the region to the south of Le Marche), claims to be the origin of this spicy condiment. I’m not about to take sides. For me, Zia Pina is the creator of Olio Santo. You see, in Zia Pina I trust.
Zia uses dried red peperoncini from Calabria to make her Olio Santo. She grinds/chops the peperoncini, places them in a bottle, fills it with good quality olive oil, and caps it before setting the bottle in the sun for 3 days. After sunbathing, the bottle is stored in a cool, dark place for at least a week. Feel free to use it after that. (See Notes) It really is that simple and the recipe I’m about to share adds quantities to the ingredients just mentioned.
Although Zia uses Calabrese peperoncini, you may not be able to source them. For some time, I had a devil of a time finding them and eventually turned to Amazon. Of course, you needn’t go to such lengths but can easily use the more readily available chilies from this side of the Atlantic. I’ve used dried Chile do Arbol with a dash of red pepper flakes when peperoncini aren’t available. The preparations taste the same and affect the same area of the palate. I honestly doubt whether anyone would notice a difference.
Once made, use it as a finishing oil for just about any pasta dish to add a little zip to the plate. I’ve used it as a base for spaghetti aglio e olio, as well as a dipping oil for some crusty Italian bread. You may want to add a bit of grated Parmigiano Reggiano to that plate, too. Remember the pinzimonio? A dash of Olio Santo to the dipping sauce will bring a bit of heat to your veggies. Make a batch of this flavorful oil and I think you’ll be surprised to see just how many uses you’ll find for it. And we’ll have Zia Pina to thank.
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Olio Santo Recipe
- 4 oz dried Calabrese peperoncini
- 1 quart (1 l) good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Place the dried peperoncini into a food processor and pulse until thoroughly chopped.
- Alternately: use a sharp knife to chop the dried peperoncini. Wear gloves to limit the risk of a burning eye.
- Place the chopped peperoncini into a clean & dry glass container with a tight-fitting lid.
- Add the olive oil, stir to combine, and place the lid on the jar.
- Once sealed, place the container into a sunny spot, where it will remain for 3 days.
- Once “cured”, place the jar into a cool, dark place for at least 1 week. (See Notes)
- Place the Olio Santo into bottles more suitable for serving. You can include some of the peperoncini bits in each jar, if you prefer. (See Notes)
- Olio Santo will keep for months, although it never lasts that long.
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I stir the peperoncini in the oil several times while it sits both in the sun and in the dark. Not only will this ensure that all trapped air bubbles are released, I think it gives all the chopped peperoncini equal access to the oil.
I always include some chopped peperoncini in each serving bottle I fill from a batch of Olio Santo. If you don’t wish to do so, just pass the oil through a mesh strainer as your fill the bottle.
Using a small ladle, I remove any bits and seeds that may float to the surface of my Olio Santo. If allowed to remain, they may block the bottle’s pourer, only to release at a most inopportune time.
Your Olio Santo will keep for 6 months, even longer if you continue to refill it with oil after you fill the serving bottle(s). Once soaked, however, I never allow the chopped peperoncini to be exposed to the air. When the level of oil in the bottle drops that low, either add more oil or toss that batch’s remnants. It’s easy enough to make a fresh batch.
Some prefer to keep the Olio Santo in the fridge. If you choose to do that, keep in mind that the olive oil will thicken considerably when cold. You can get around this by substituting a neutral-tasting vegetable oil for an equal amount of the olive oil, or, by removing the serving bottle from the fridge about 30 minutes before it’s needed.
There are other ways to prepare Olio Santo. Some use chopped, fresh peperoncini, while some recipes steep the peperoncini in heated — not boiling — oil. Never having tried any of them, I cannot say much more about them. I can say, however, that I’m sticking with Zia Pina.
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It’s déjà vu all over again …
One good condiment deserves another, eh? A few years ago I made my first batch of ketchup and haven’t bought a bottle since. It’s good enough to have earned a permanent spot in my Christmas gift baskets, too. Better still, it’s not just for fried potatoes or burgers, as I’ll prove in a soon-to-be shared meatloaf recipe. Take this LINK to see the recipe and then you’ll have no excuse for not being prepared to make a killer meatloaf in a few weeks.
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Coming soon to a monitor near you …
Pasta with Zucchini Blossoms & Cream
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