The annual Peperoncino Festival in Diamante, Calabria is a celebration of the local hot chili pepper, the Diavolicchio Diamante.
Calabrian tour guide Nunzia Bruno and I chatted about the festival and the world famous Diavolicchio Diamante peperoncino.
Annunziata Bruno (Nunzia), was born and raised in Calabria. She's a private tour guide throughout the southern Italian regions.
Nunzia loves her rich and beautiful Calabria region and loves to share it with her clients and teach them about Calabria's heritage and history, art and unique gastronomy. She’s passionate about Calabrian peperoncini, the Peperoncino Festival and cedri (citrons).
Nunzia arranges and runs sensorial tours for the blind; a unique and important role that helps the visually impaired enjoy the wonders of Calabria.
About Diamante, Calabria
Diamante is famous for three things: its over 300 murals throughout the town, magnificent sunsets and last but not least peperoncini (hot chili peppers) and the annual Peperoncino Festival.
Diamante is on the Tyrrhenian coast about a 4 ½ to 5 hour drive south of Rome. It's ideal to have a car when you visit so you can explore all the little towns and villages throughout Calabria. If you'd like to visit Diamante but prefer not to drive it's an easy train ride from Rome and the train takes you right into the Diamante city center.
During the day you can explore the beautiful murals throughout Diamante, spend some time on the beach and admire the sunsets at day’s end.
At night Diamante comes to life and the seaside promenade is filled with people enjoying an evening drink or gelato.
About the Peperoncino Festival
The Peperoncino Festival has been running for nearly 30 years since 1992, and always takes place in mid September. This year is an exception; the 2021 festival dates are October 6 through October 10. This festival isn't a traditional sagra that's usually only food focused but instead it’s a rich cultural event that draws the participation of artists, medical professionals and chefs throughout Italy and worldwide.
During the 5 festival days plan to enjoy street theater shows, along with a whole lineup of musical entertainment. Take a look at the full program here.
As Diamante is the city of murals during the festival artists will be painting new murals in honor of the festival.
There are various educational and cultural seminars that take place at the Peperoncino Festival and one or more seminars are always on the health benefits of the peperoncino. Among other benefits many say that peperoncini help with hair loss, cancer, dermatological issues, digestion problems, depression, muscle pain, hemorrhoids, headache and obesity. In addition the peperoncino is believed to have aphrodisiacal properties.
Cooking shows take place throughout the festival and feature prominent Italian and international chefs. It's great to watch the chefs preparing their delicious recipes and participants learn how to use peperoncini in different recipes.
Local restaurants always have stands at the Peperoncino Festival and one of my favorite restaurants for the past two decades is the Sabbia d’Oro restaurant. They have a delicious dessert on their menu, Crostata del Diavolo. It's a classic Italian crostata (jam pie) prepared with a mixture of hot pepper jam and fruit jam, usually citrus.
Enzo Monaco is the driving force and soul behind the annual Peperoncino Festival, and the founder of the Accademia del Peperoncino (the Italian Peperoncino Academy). He’s the author of Peperoncino Amore Mio (Peperoncino My Love), a book full of history, recipes, photographs and more all about hot chili peppers. You can buy the book here.
About the peperoncino
The peperoncino, or hot chili pepper, belongs to the capsicum genus, and there are about 2500 capsicum species worldwide. There are still other capsicum species that grow wild and are as has yet unnamed.
There are numerous species of peperoncini throughout Italy. As peperoncini are so easy to grow many Italians grow them in their garden or have a small peperoncino flower pot in their home.
The name capsicum comes from capsa, a Latin word for box, or container, that holds the seeds.
What gives peperoncini the sensation of heat and burn in your mouth is the presence of the capsaicin chemical. Although humans experience this burning sensation, oddly enough birds eat hot peppers but don't feel the heat and burn. Good thing because birds are key in the distribution pepper seeds.
Hot pepper burn varies depending on the species and it's measured using the Scoville scale in Scoville heat units (SHU). The Trinidad scorpion hot pepper has a 1.5 million SHU, whereas the lowest SHU is the sweet bell pepper at 0 on the Scoville scale.
The Diavolicchio Diamante measures around 40,000 to 50,000 SHU.
How can you get rid of the burning sensation in your mouth? As capsaicin is soluble in fat your best bet is a glass of milk, yogurt or cheese. A bite of bread will also provide temporary relief.
The shape and color of peppers varies enormously. They can be round and about the size of a cherry, or elongated. They can be green, red, yellow or a mixture of these colors. What determines the color is the presence of caratenoids.
The Diavolicchio Diamante is cultivated along the Tyrrhenian Coast and is the star of the annual Peperoncino Festival in Diamante.
It's red and elongated and can reach 6 to 8 cm. It's used to make the traditional hot pepper necklace. There are a number of stores throughout the town that sell this necklace and other lovely peperoncino jewelry.
When you visit Diamante be sure to buy some peperoncini. You can buy them fresh or already dried and they are a beautiful adornment to your kitchen. I always have them hanging year-round and when I need a little heat in a recipe I snap off a peperoncino.
As you stroll throughout Diamante you'll see peperoncini strung up, or preserved in what is known as olio santo (sacred oil). A few drops of this oil will add heat to any dish.
There are lots of ways to use peperoncini in recipes. A classic Neapolitan recipe is spicy pasta and beans. Perhaps the best known recipe of all is Aglio Olio e Peperoncino: spaghetti with garlic and hot chili peppers sizzled in extra-virgin olive oil. I also use hot chili peppers in my recipe for Penne with Sizzled Garlic, Peperoncino and Anchovies and Cameroni Farro Pasta with Pioppini Mushrooms, Peperoncini and Tomatoes.
In Diamante there's a local cocktail made from peperoncini and cedro (citron), a local citrus fruit. and if you enjoy Italian amaro liqueurs then you'll probably enjoy this Calabrian amaro made using peperoncini: Vecchio Amaro del Capo.
In Calabria the peperoncino is used to make ‘nduja, a delicious spreadable pork salami that’s rich with umami flavor. I use it frequently in recipes like ‘Nduja Spaghetti with Slivered Zucchini and Arugula.
Read (and listen) all about ‘nduja here.
Hot chill peppers are used in many beloved international sauces like Tabasco Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce.
In Calabria fresh peperoncini are often served with meals and locals, usually men, eat them whole with their meal.
Famous people worldwide have enjoyed using hot child peppers in their recipes: Louis Armstrong - rice and red beans with hot pepper; Ernest Hemingway - cod and beans with hot pepper; Maigret - pasta carbonara with hot pepper.
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