How to Cook with Calabrian Chilies
Gaby Dalkin, of What's Gaby Cooking, reveals her tips for working with this smoky Italian pepper.
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 chili game, there’s no better time than the present. You might start with Calabrian chilies, a favorite of the woman behind the popular food blog What’s Gaby Cooking, Gaby Dalkin. “I became obsessed with Calabrian chilies two years ago when I went to Italy,” she says.
Indeed, Calabrian chilies are having a bit of a moment in American restaurants, too. In the "Calabrese Pizza" at Aita in Brooklyn, Calabrian chili powder is worked into the dough for added heat. At Barbuto, squid ink pasta with shrimp is enlivened with fresh Calabrian chilies and lemon.
While you won’t find this type of chili 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 chilies into your cooking routine.
Finding the chilies
Making the chili paste
One of Dalkin’s favorite ways to use these chilies 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 chilies in a Vitamix and purée the heck out of them, and add a little bit of olive oil,” she explains.
Dalkin purées 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 chilies
Dalkin’s go-to dish to add the paste to is pasta, naturally.
“I make this Calabrian chili 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 [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 chilies for.”