Diavolicchio, little devil chilies, are just one of four varieties of hot peppers that bring the heat to Basilicata’s spicy cuisine. Along with its less-piquant brothers, the frangisello, cerasella and pupon peppers, this finger-length, horn-shaped diavolicchio pepper is a staple ingredient in the cuisine of Basilicata. Historically, diavolicchio peppers (either hung to dry in kitchens or cooked into daily meals) were thought to ward off malaria, cholera, and worms. Peasants were especially apt to include peppers in almost all of their dishes. In fact, as the region’s poor shepherds often depended upon a few peppers and a chunk of local cacio cheese for their daily nourishment, diavolicchio dishes are still referred to as pranzo del contadino, or peasants’ lunch.
Used sparingly in a dish, diavolicchio peppers behave much like salt or freshly ground black pepper; they intensify the flavors of the other ingredients and provide a subtle base that heightens other flavors. While it is difficult to identify the chili when used in this way, most often in stews, the other flavors in the dish come across as noticeably bold.
Diavolicchio peppers are used in abundance, often mixed with other pepper varieties, when the emphasis of a dish is on its spice. In Basilicata, pasta is often dressed simply with olive oil sauteed with fresh chili peppers, and topped with a generous pinch of dried pepper flakes. As with our recipe of the month, Maccheroni du Fuoco, such pastas are often topped with generous shavings of local caciocavallo cheese– just how the peasants would have wanted it.