How to Cook with Calabrian Chiles

Gaby Dalkin, of What's Gaby Cooking, reveals her tips for working with this smoky Italian pepper.

Chili pepper ice cream
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When I'm looking for an easy way to spice up a dish — whether it's sautéed kale or a simple penne pasta — I reach for the red pepper flakes. It's a reliable spice, though admittedly a little routine. If you, like me, are looking to up your chile game, there's no better time than the present. You might start with Calabrian chiles, a favorite of the woman behind the popular food blog What's Gaby Cooking, Gaby Dalkin. "I became obsessed with Calabrian chiles two years ago when I went to Italy," she says.

Indeed, Calabrian chiles are having a bit of a moment in American restaurants, too. In the Calabrese pizza at Aita in Brooklyn, Calabrian chile powder is worked into the dough for added heat. At Barbuto, squid ink pasta with shrimp is enlivened with fresh Calabrian chiles and lemon.

While you won't find this type of pepper at your local grocery, they aren't as hard to track down as you might think. Here, Dalkin offers her three best tips for incorporating these chiles into your cooking routine.

Finding the chiles

While Whole Foods sometimes stocks them, Dalkin recommends ordering from Williams-Sonoma, which carries crushed Calabrian chiles in oil, or Amazon, where you can find jars of the whole chiles.

Making the chile paste

One of Dalkin's favorite ways to use these chiles is by turning them into a paste. The process is actually pretty simple (you don't have to stoop over a mortar and pestle crushing them up by hand, unless you want to, of course). All you need is a blender.

"Just put Calabrian chiles in a Vitamix and puree the heck out of them, and add a little bit of olive oil," she explains.

Dalkin purees the chilies for about 30 seconds, but warns that you have to add a significant amount to the blender, "so there's enough substance to whirl them up."

Cooking with the chiles

Dalkin's go-to dish to add the paste to is pasta, naturally.

"I make this Calabrian chile pasta, which is so good with lemon zest and all the garlic," she says. "I have this recipe called garlic crack sauce that's the most incredible olive oil-garlic mixture, and you can add [the paste] in if you wanted to give it some extra kick."

She also puts it in hummus, but says that "the sky is the limit," so you shouldn't be afraid of adding the paste to any recipes that you think could use some heat.

"It's just like red pepper flakes," she says. "Anything you would add red pepper flakes to, you could use Calabrian chiles for."

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