(featuring the Diavolicchio Chile Pepper)
Recipe from Chef Mario Batali, Yield: 4 servings
Adding just the right level of spice, diavolicchio or "little devil" chilies are just one of four varieties of hot peppers that bring the heat to the spicy cuisine. Along with its less piquant brothers, the grangisello, cerasella and pupon peppers, the finger-length, horn-shaped diavolicchio pepper is a staple ingredient. Historically, diavolicchio peppers drying in bundles hung from kitchen ceilings, or simmered into the daily meal were thought to ward off malaria, cholera and worms. Peasants were especially apt to include peppers in almost all of their dishes. In fact, diavolicchio are still referred to as the "pranzo del contadino" or "peasant's lunch", meaning that the region's poor shepherds often depended upon a few peppers and a chunk of local cacio cheese for their daily nourishment.
Used sparingly in a dish, diavolicchio peppers behave much like salt or freshly ground black pepper, intensifying the flavors of the other ingredients and providing a subtle base flavor against which the other flavors are heightened. It is difficult to identify the chili iteself when used in this way, most often in stews, but the other flavors in the dish come across as noticeably bold.
This dish offers an unexpected blend of tastes: spicy, rich fruity and tangy, all combined into one cool mixture, and reminds me of how delicious mussels can be served cold if the bread is toasted and the sauce is spicy-hot.
- 2 lbs fresh mussels
- 3 tablespoons plus 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large red onion, cut into 1/2 inch dice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 each large red and yellow bell peppers, cut into 1/4 inch dice
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon hot chili flakes
- 4 garlic gloves, sliced into thin slices, plus 2 whole cloves
- 4 tablespoons good tomato paste
- 1 orange, cut into segments, with juices
- 4 thick slices good crusty bread
- 10 leaves fresh basil
Clean and beard the mussels. Place a large spaghetti pot over medium heat, add the oil and onions, and cook for 2 minutes until sizzling. Add the mussels and the wine to the pot, cover, and cook until the mussels have all steamed open, about 6-8 minutes. Remove the mussels with a spoon or spider and leave the liquid and onions in the pot. Allow the mussels to cool and remove them from their shells and set the mussels aside. Discard the shells.
Meanwhile, cook the mussel liquid until only a little moisture remains, about 3-4 tablespoons. Add the peppers, thyme leaves, chili flakes, and garlic, and cook over medium heat until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Cook for 5 more minutes, stirring often. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool.
Combine the pepper mixture with the shucked mussels, the remaining oil, and the orange segments and juice. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Toast the 4 slices of bread and rub each with the remaining garlic. Spoon the mussel mixture over the bread, lay a couple of basil leaves over each and serve with a small, bitter salad.