Calabrian chile oil belongs in your pantry

G Daniela Galarza

THE WASHINGTON POST – One of my friends, a voracious eater, reader and writer, talks often about three things: Movies – especially those starring Keanu Reeves and George Clooney – cycling and Calabrian chiles. Before I met him, I invariably kept a jar of Calabrian chiles in oil in my fridge, for spiking pasta sauce, but I hadn’t really tasted their warm, fruity flavour until I watched him spoon the condiment on top of . . . pretty much any takeout he ordered or dish he cooked: chicken wings; egg and cheese sandwiches; scallops; fish; pasta; the list goes on.

Like all chiles, Southern Italy’s most common chile, generically referred to as pepperoncini – not to be confused with pickled pepperoncini – originated across the Atlantic, probably in Mexico or Brazil. The peppers now cultivated in Calabria are thought to be somewhat different from similar peppers grown elsewhere, in part because of variations in climate and soil. I’ve never seen them sold fresh in the United States – only dried, pickled or in oil – but maybe that’s because I haven’t looked in the right places. All I know is that there’s something to that taste. It’s why I keep buying them.

The flavour of the roasted and crushed chiles soaked in oil reminds me a little of a Fresno chile, but can pack a bit more heat, though it’s not as hot as a very spicy jalapeño.

The smell of it tickles my nose, but it’s not a flavour that lingers on the tongue.

Like a hummingbird suckling a blossom, it thrums in place for a few moments, but then you blink and it has flitted away in a blur. I didn’t grow up with much Italian food, so it tastes both familiar and novel to me. The versatility of Calabrian chiles are what make it an essential condiment in my pantry.

White Bean soup with Calabrian chile oil. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

If you have it, drizzle some on this super easy recipe for white bean soup. But if you don’t, you can swap in for your favourite chile oil – chile crisp or a straightforward Sichuan might be nice, or salsa macha, if you’ve got that.

You can make a quick chile oil by heating up a small amount of neutral oil, turning the heat off, adding ground or crushed dried chiles and letting it steep while you make the soup.

Or, if you don’t like heat, you can skip it, and top the soup instead with a drizzle of nice olive oil and shaved Parmesan or pecorino.

The base of this soup starts with Parmesan rinds, plus browned shallots and garlic, which boost the flavour of store-bought broth; if you don’t have aged cheese rinds on hand, omit them. (But the next time you finish a wedge of Parmesan, save the rind in your freezer for adding to stocks, soups and stews!) Sauteed sausage might be nice here, if you’re in the mood for something meaty; sometimes I use chopped onions and carrots instead of shallots and garlic for a slightly sweeter flavour.

Use whatever white beans you have in your pantry: Navy, garbanzo and cannellini all work well. For a thicker soup, use two or three cups of chicken stock instead of four. I like to serve the soup, drizzled with plenty of chile oil, with bread for dipping and chunks of Parmesan to nibble on between spoonfuls.

WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH CALABRIAN CHILE OIL

Active time: 10 minutes | Total time: 35 minutes

4 servings

Storage: Store leftover soup in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to three days or freeze for up to one month.

NOTE: If you don’t have Parmesan rinds, the rind of another hard, long-aged cheese, such as manchego or pecorino, will also work. If not, omit it.

INGREDIENTS

One tablespoon olive oil

Two shallots, peeled and halved

Three cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

Two to four cups vegetable or chicken stock

One to three Parmesan rinds (optional, see NOTE)

Three cans cannellini beans, drained

One teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, or to taste

One to two tablespoons Calabrian chile oil, or another chile oil

Crusty bread, for serving (optional)

Three ounces Parmesan cheese, broken up into bite-size pieces (optional)

DIRECTIONS

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Lay the shallot halves in the oil, cut sides down, and cook until lightly browned, one to two minutes. Add the garlic and cook just until starting to brown, about one minute. Add the stock – start with two cups, and add more to thin out the soup, if desired – and Parmesan rind(s), if using.

Bring to a boil and cover; boil for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, uncover and, using tongs, remove and discard the Parmesan rinds. Add the beans and bring the soup just to a simmer. Remove from the heat.

Using a stick blender, puree the soup until smooth. (Or carefully pour the hot soup into the jar of a blender and puree in batches.) Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and drizzle with the chile oil. Serve hot, with crusty bread and pieces of Parmesan on the side, if desired.

NUTRITION

Calories: 357; Total Fat: 7 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 413 mg; Carbohydrates: 54 g; Dietary Fibre: 13 g; Sugar: 3 g; Protein: 21 g.