Olio Santo – The Spicy Peperoncini Oil of Italy

Olio Santo 2

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

Ingredients

  • 4 oz dried Calabrese peperoncini
  • 1 quart (1 l) good quality extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Place the dried peperoncini into a food processor and pulse until thoroughly chopped.
    1. Alternately: use a sharp knife to chop the dried peperoncini. Wear gloves to limit the risk of a burning eye.
  2. Place the chopped peperoncini into a clean & dry glass container with a tight-fitting lid.
  3. Add the olive oil, stir to combine, and place the lid on the jar.
  4. Once sealed, place the container into a sunny spot, where it will remain for 3 days.
  5. Once “cured”, place the jar into a cool, dark place for at least 1 week. (See Notes)
  6. 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)
  7. Olio Santo will keep for months, although it never lasts that long.

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Olio Santo 3

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Notes 

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 …

Ketchup Look Back

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 …

zucchini-blossoms-pasta-preview

Pasta with Zucchini Blossoms & Cream

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If it’s Mid-Summer, it’s Time for Pinzimonio!

Pinzimonio 2

I remember this dish every year — but around Thanksgiving, long after the gardens have withered and the farmers markets have closed for the season. Sure, you can make this dish anytime but it’s best when the vegetables are freshly picked. So, what is pinzimonio?

It’s a variety of fresh vegetables served raw with a side dressing of olive oil and vinegar that’s seasoned simply with salt and pepper. (Yes, that’s crudités but I hesitate to bring a third language into the discussion.)  It’s easy enough to prepare and a great way to take advantage of summer’s bounty.

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Pinzimonio 1

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When I was a boy, Mom would serve pinzimonio just about every Sunday starting in July, when the first of our garden’s crop ripened. As we gathered for dinner, there would be a platter of cut, raw vegetables in the center of the table waiting for us. You might find bell peppers, fennel, celery, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and scallions, along with whatever caught Dad’s eye when he took Sis & I to the grocery that morning. Rounding out the antipasti/insalati, she’d also serve a platter of freshly picked, sliced tomatoes (See Déjà Vu).  But wait! There’s more.

At each of our places at the table, Mom would have a ramekin with our own dipping sauce which she would cater to our age and preference. All contained oil and red wine vinegar but those for Sis and I, being the youngest, contained just a touch of salt & pepper. My brother, being so very much older (this is one way to see if my siblings read the blog), was allowed more salt and pepper in his dipping sauce. Mom, having a life-long aversion to pepper, gave herself barely a few pepper flakes with the salt in her ramekin. Dad had no such issues and you could see a thick layer of salt with another of pepper covering the bottom of his little dish. Each of us helped ourselves to whatever we wanted on the platter and dipped it into our own ramekins. No need to pass this or that and, best of all, we could double, triple, or even quadruple dip without so much as a raised eyebrow from Mom.

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Pinzimonio 3

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Now, as for a recipe, well, I’ve pretty much explained the dish already. Gather together any fresh vegetable that you would serve dressed with an oil and vinegar dressing. Clean and trim each in such a way to accommodate their serving and arrange them on a platter. Next, place oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in ramekins or small dishes, one per place setting. Although Mom always used red wine vinegar, I’ve used balsamic and loved it.

No matter the vinegar used, you’ll find that pinzimonio is a great way to take advantage of the bounty of summer, while adding more vegetables to your diet. Not only that but if, like me, you have meatless days, pinzimonio makes a great lunch or dinner, especially when summer’s heat renders the stove off-limits.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tomato Antipasti - Deja Vu

I could hardly write about pinzimonio without offering you the link to Mom’s Tomato Antipasti. This time of year, both dishes were usually served side-by-side, much to the delight of all seated at that table. Best of all, it’s an easy dish to prepare and, like pinzimonio, no stove is required. Here’s the LINK to one of my family’s favorite summertime antipasti.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Squash with Seafood Preview

Butternut Squash “Noodles” with Seafood

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Our Italian Holiday

This being such a short post, I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity and share a bit of our holiday last spring.

Bologna

My trip began in Bologna, a wonderful town with an incredible history. It is home to the world’s oldest continuously operating university and the center of what many believe to be the heart of Italian cuisine. With my nephew arriving the next day, I had barely enough time to check into my room, take a walk, break my camera, have a great dinner, and get lost on my way back to the hotel. Yes, you read that correctly. My camera was out of commission for the entire trip. Let me apologize now for the quality of the pics to follow. Truth be told, I hadn’t planned on posting many because most would be very similar to those posted 2 years ago. Even so, it would have been nice to have had a good camera with me.

Many of Bologna’s walks are covered and the “pavement” is marble. The city is meant for the casual promenade. Besides several churches and the university, there are a number of sites to see: the Two Towers, the Piazza Maggiore (site of my camera’s untimely demise), the statue of Neptune, and of course, my prosciutto store, La Prosciutteria. How I love that place!!!  Here are a few photos. Click on any one to see a full description.

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That day ended with one of the best restaurant meals that I was served.

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The Republic of San Marino

My nephew’s plane arrived on time and soon we were on our way to San Marino, where Zia Pina greeted us with open arms, Waiting with her was her grand-daughter & husband, and the newest member of our the family, the soon to be one-year-old Viola. Zia is a wonderful cook and the highlight was when she served cappelletti for the entire family. This just so happens to by my nephew’s favorite dish and one he hasn’t enjoyed since his Grandma, my Mom, passed away 14 years ago. The following day, she took us both for a tour of the city of San Marino, and the seat of the republic’s government atop Mt. Titano. The next day, Sunday, we attended a mass that Zia had arranged to honor our family’s departed. Afterward, we re-assembled at a restaurant In Riccione, on the Adriatic shore, for a fantastic seafood feast. I would go back there in a heartbeat! Here are just a few of those photos.

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Venice

Before leaving San Marino, my nephew and I “kidnapped” a young cousin for a day trip to Venice and Murano Island. It was a chilly day with showers, so, we timed our lunch and a caffè for the worst spells — or so we tried. Although we knew it was the Italian Liberation Day holiday, we didn’t know that it was also St. Mark’s feast day, he being the Patron Saint of Venice. We learned of our oversight upon setting foot upon St. Mark’s Square. Even so, we had to keep moving and, after a water taxi ride to Murano Island for a bit of souvenir shopping, we ended our day with a fine supper. Then it was a dash across Venice for a train ride back to Rimini where a cousin would take us to Zia’s. (I won’t mention that our arrival was delayed because we missed our train and, consequently, were stowaways on the next.) Thankfully, our “chauffeur” was very kind and waited patiently for our eventual arrival. These next photos are by committee. Oddly enough, each of our phones, ran out of power as we traversed Venice. Mine was the first to go, only to miraculously revive — its vibrating giving me quite a start — on the train as we approached the station in Rimini.

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Don’t let the blue skies fool you. We were drenched by the time we reached the piazza and there wasn’t a soul seated in any of the cafés that encircle it.

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Rome

The next morning, my nephew and I boarded a train bound for Rome, with Zia and 2 cousins accompanying us. What fun! Our flat was about 100 yards from the Pantheon and once we settled in, we were off for a little sightseeing around the Piazza Navona. That night, we enjoyed a fine dinner in celebration of my nephew’s graduation and, as we soon learned, my cousin’s wedding anniversary. The next morning, we walked to the Vatican to meet another cousin and her husband. Unable to get into the Vatican because the Pope was awaiting a diplomat, we took taxis to the Colosseum, stopping along the way for lunch. Well, by the time we made it to the Colosseum, it was far too crowded with tourists to enter. We headed back to the flat, said our goodbyes, and our cousins headed to the train station for their ride back to San Marino. Alone now, with only 2 days left, we planned the rest of our stay. We would spend one morning revisiting the Colosseum, with the Vatican occupying the second. The afternoons would be spent seeing everything on his “must see” list, as well as a couple of sites that I tossed into the mix. Of course, a fantastic meal would end each day.

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Corinaldo

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was time for us to part company. My nephew returned home but a few weeks earlier I had decided to extend my holiday. I wanted to take a few days to visit Corinaldo, the Bartolini ancestral home. So, as my nephew boarded a plane, I caught a train to Ancona, where I rented a car for the drive to Corinaldo. It’s a quaint little village nestled in rolling hills. The very center of the town is totally encircled by walls that were built during the 1300s. Unlike similar towns in Italy, these walls have been maintained and are in excellent condition. There is but one entrance and one exit, the knowledge of which might have saved me the hour I spent circling the area, not to mention one ill-fated attempt of entering through the exit. (Ah! The joys of travel.) Once situated, my flat was quite nice with a terrace facing west and I was anxious to watch the sun set over the Italian countryside. Well, that was the plan but the clouds had made previous reservations, apparently, and I never did see a sunset. No worries. I still enjoyed my time there, walking from one end of the village to the other — make that “carefully walking”. It rained intermittently and the cobblestone streets are quite narrow. I rushed for a doorway or hugged a wall whenever I heard a car approach. Luckily, that didn’t happen very often. There is no rush hour in downtown Corinaldo. There is, however, a great little restaurant on The Stairs and they served me my final meal in my Grandparents’ hometown.

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Terrace view

The terrace view

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Fiumicino

I left the next morning taking a route to Ancona that would allow me to travel along the Adriatic coast for a spell. To get to the coast, I travelled along narrow roads that carried me over the hills, through the beautiful Marche countryside. I dropped off the car and made my way to the train station. With an early morning flight, my destination would be Fiumicino, a small town about 30 km outside of Rome and home to the city’s international airport. Lucky for me, there was a wonderful restaurant just down the street from my hotel. My holiday ended with one last fantastic meal, albeit a filling one.

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Along the way to Fiumincino during the last train ride.

Along the way to Fiumincino during the last train ride.

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One thing more

Unbeknownst to me, I spent my holiday walking with a stress fracture of my left ankle. It had bothered me before I left but I made a variety of excuses about it. In fact, even upon coming home, the excuses continued. Finally, about a week later, I decided to have it checked and I was given this fancy boot to wear for the next 4 weeks. WIth the boot now gone, I am happy to say that things are back to normal, whatever that means.

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Stress Fracture

You won’t find this at Ferragamo’s.

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Our holiday was memorable in so many ways, and during the course of which, my now-adult nephew and I became re-acquainted. We were treated royally, with our family members freeing up their schedules so that they could spend as much time with us as possible. I’ve read that when we put to paper an objective, the odds of accomplishing it increase by 40%. With that in mind, I do not know how or when but I will be returning to San Marino. I must. I’ve promised to kidnap another cousin for a day trip somewhere.

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