Fiery and hot says the stallholder’s sign in Palermo’s Ballaro’ market. So, be warned!
When I flung some chili pepper seeds on my small patch of herb garden way back in April, I had no idea that I’d have such a successful crop. Around 10 plants grew up nice and strong and managed to survive the cat; she loves new seed beds, for obvious reasons! Covered to stop her advances and that of searing summer heat, the chilis grew beyond belief. Finally, in autumn, they fruited. And what a crop too.
Chilis do find their way into a lot of our dishes, surreptitiously sliced in when J isn’t looking. These babies were quite hot though and needed to come with that market stallholder’s warning on them; so much for my trying to hide them in the sauces, they refused to be masked – subtly hot they are not. As my seed packet was a left over from previous years, and I’d ripped off the bit saying what variety they were, I had no idea they were so ardente.
The questions remains then what to do with my chilis, which as we move into later autumn, are still budding up. One way to deal with them is to open freeze them and then bag up. I find this works very well so long as you split, de-seed and slice up the chili straight from the freezer otherwise it will turn to mush. With a massive amount already frozen, I needed to do something with the new arrivals on my plants. Make my own chili-infused olive oil, that’s the answer.
I can’t remember the times I’ve seen chili and other herb-infused oil on shelves in artisan delis. Beautiful as they as in tall, narrow bottles, it really is worth making your own as a cheaper, handy chili olive oil. Use wide-necked jars – even jam jars will do – as you’ll need to remove the chilis, or other herbs if you add bay or rosemary, within two to three weeks so they don’t go mouldy. Narrow oil bottles are a real pain to try to extract chilis from, so ignore the aesthetics.
Chili works better in small batches so make up in 250ml amounts of olive oil. It won’t be your everyday oil anyway as you’ll be using it only for salads, flat breads, focaccie or the odd spoonful to start a pasta sauce or as a marinade or herby-spicy rub for meat or fish. Actually, that’s quite a list of uses. Make up several small jars, place on a shelf and feel righteous about making a preserve. Ideal Christmas gifts too, if you use those awkward but tempting and elegant narrow-necked bottles and add a snazzy label.
copyright all images Liz Ayling 2013.
- 250ml regular olive oil
- 6 chilis, red or green
- black peppercorns (optional)
- jam jars with lids – washed in hot water thoroughly (no need to sterilise)
- Wash and pat dry the chilis. Score them lengthways with the point of a sharp paring knife.
- Place chilis in the jar, pour in the oil to cover. Seal on lid.
- Leave chilis to infuse for 2-3 weeks then remove and discard (or use immediately if you happen to be cooking something that needs them).
- For a double whammy of heat, I added whole black peppercorns but you can leave out or add herbs like bay or rosemary as well if you like, particularly if giving as gifts – put fewer chilis if adding other ingredients.