By Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
I love hot peppers, and I use them often in my recipes. They add just the right amount of spiciness to personalize and turn every recipe into a special dish. With a dash of hot pepper, even the most boring, plain spaghetti turns into something interesting, devilish, alive and . . . aphrodisiac.
The pungent spiciness of chili peppers is a matter of taste: loved or hated. Personally, I love it! Maybe it's because a quarter of Southern Italy blood runs in my veins, and in the south of our peninsula, peperoncino is typical.
The chili pepper is not an original plant of Italy but was discovered by Cristoforo Colombo, who wanted to find Indian spices and found the spices of South America instead.
But why is this cute little veggie full of sunny colors so damn hot?
The concentration of alkaloids called capsaicinoids are the cause of spiciness in red peppers. These phytochemical elements were developed by plants to prevent mammals from eating the fruits, destroying the seeds in their digestive tract. This natural defense does not work with birds, so when they eat hot peppers, they help spread the seeds to other places.
The rating of spiciness, called the Scoville scale, is different for every kind of hot pepper—the strongest one is called the “California Reaper." I don’t use it often because it destroys every dish—as well as my tongue! I prefer to appreciate the taste and the spiciness without spoiling my recipes with something too hot even for me.
The recipe below is a classic—a typical peasant Italian dish, very easy to cook, and it has all the flavor and warm heart of Italy.
Spaghetti ajo ojo e peperoncino
(Spaghetti with garlic, olive oil, and hot peppers)
¾ lb spaghetti
4 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh chili peppers, sliced
Bring to boil salted water for the pasta in a large pot. Add the spaghetti and stir.
While the pasta is cooking, sauté the garlic and sliced peppers in the extra virgin olive oil. Be careful not to burn them!
When your spaghetti is cooked to “al dente,” drain it and dress with this simple sauce.
Sprinkle Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley.
Enjoy the spiciness!