If you were to wan­der into cer­tain south­ern Ital­ian vil­lages towards the end of the sum­mer, you’d likely catch the quaint and colour­ful spec­ta­cle of pep­pers strung up and hang­ing out to dry. Just a chain or two by the door, pro­duce of a fam­ily veg­etable patch, or racks and racks of them where local busi­nesses pack and ship them to delis and restau­rants all over Italy and, yes, beyond.

They’re the gas­tro­nomic pièce de résis­tance of a cor­ner of Basil­i­cata, with their grand cru in Senise and an EU Pro­tected Geo­graph­i­cal Indi­ca­tion, no less. Small and red, elon­gated, pointy and some­times curved, with very lit­tle flesh to get your teeth into, they’ve been grown here for cen­turies and pre­served for the win­ter months by desiccation.

Meet… i peper­oni cruschi !

Once dehy­drated, some are pul­ver­ized to make a local kind of paprika, added to flavour the pork used in salami or focac­cia dough. But their true voca­tion, their high­est thing, is to be fried whole (which requires not a lit­tle prac­tice — they’re so utterly wiz­ened they char within sec­onds) and salted. Then do they come into their own, crisp and divine as a side dish, or bro­ken over pasta and pulses, bac­calà, pota­toes, the hum­ble fried egg, etcetera.

Stop in Senise for insider knowledge.

Pho­tos by Mike Corey and Nathan Miller for Dig­i­tal Diary #2 Basil­i­cata on our very own Can’t For­get Italy.

85038 Senise (PZ)