At first we weren’t convinced: looking at the leathery, deflated, deep red goat’s horn peppers sandwiched in their plastic sack, nothing really very appetizing came to mind. Michele Ferrante, our contadino friend from Controne, had just presented us with this new “snack” from his fields.
“But wait,” his wife Antonietta said, “let me cook them for you tonight with some controne beans.”
Well, if our favorite local heirloom beans were involved, we were on.
So, later on in the afternoon we watched as Antonietta began preparing the peppers by heating a thick slick of Michele’s olive oil in a heavy skillet. She tossed in a couple of cloves of unpeeled garlic, and as that began to sizzle, took the whole peppers from their bag.
Since the peppers are not hot and spicy, but in fact are sweet and without any burn, they can be handled without problems and then used, as we were to find out, as a great snack or topping.
After pulling out the garlic, Antonietta tossed the peppers– stem, caps and all –into the oil. A quick toss with a fork, turning each pepper deftly to cook evenly, and within seconds they had puffed into bright red bolsters. Just as quickly she pulled them hot out of the skillet, and set them to rest on some sheets of paper towel. “Ora, bisogna aspettare”– now it is time to wait a bit, she said. So we gazed for a moment at the red laquer-like beauty of the freshly cooked peppers, which had amazingly begun to crisp up as soon as they rested from their fry time.
Later that evening, at cena-the dinner meal-the peppers were featured on a large platter, pinwheel style. We each were ladeled a large bowl of just-tender controne beans, and a platter of toasted bread was passed all around.
“Prendete, pure” please take some, Antonietta insisted. Michele reached his contadino arm across the table to show us how to combine the beans and peppers. He took a whole pepper and crushed it gently so that flakes of red, crispy peppers floated down atop the pale, beige beans, creating a crispy topping.
I could hardly wait to get my hands on my own crispy controne pepper. Waiting my turn, I could smell the earthy sweetness of Michele’s beans. Once the crisp flakes of his sweet-crispy peppers were set atop them, the whole point of the peppers showed itself. Not only did the colors of pepper and bean blend beautifully, but the peppers added just the right lift in flavor, like a very, very, ripe roasted red bell pepper. And the tiny crunch was a perfect counterbalance for the smooth, velvety protein of the beans.
A true slow food, these peppers are air-dried by Michele in the fragrant atmosphere of his local wood-oven bakery, then hand-packed. They are rich in fiber, vitamins A, C, and E. And, surprisingly easy to convert from their dried, inert form to gorgeous, crispy puffs of red snack.
For all these reasons we can’t resist cooking these peppers several times a week as an easy-to-prepare accompaniment to an aperitif, almost as if they were potato chips. Save that they are made of healthy, sweet red peppers, homegrown by Michele in his lush Controne fields.
Controne Cripsy-fried Sweet Peppers
One bag Michele Ferrante Corno di Capra Snacking Peppers
One clove garlic
½ cup Michele Ferrante Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Casina Rossa Olive Oil
½ tsp. Casina Rossa Fior di Sale, Saffron & Salt, or Fiori & Salt
Remove peppers from the bag and set aside. Set a triple layer of paper towel on a plate or baking sheet and set aside.
In an 8-10 inch flat skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Test heat by tossing the garlic clove, unpeeled, in the oil and making sure that it sizzles. Allow garlic to cook for about one minute, remove from oil. Place peppers in the skillet in a single layer. Allow to cook until just darkened on each side, turning rapidly and often to crisp each side. Remove the peppers and set immediately on the paper towel. Salt lightly. You can serve these immediately while hot, or set aside. They will stay crispy even overnight.
These crisped peppers can also be cut with scissors into rings, skillet-fried, then tossed into salads, like crispy red pepper croutons. They also look beautiful to garnish a caprese salad or pasta e fagioli.
Try with prosecco, rose, or Champagne