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 flavor 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 flavor 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.
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 favorite 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 flavor 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 flavor. Use whatever white beans you have in your pantry: Navy, garbanzo and cannellini all work well. For a thicker soup, use 2 or 3 cups of chicken stock instead of 4. 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.
Storage: Store leftover soup in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 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.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 shallots, peeled and halved
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 2 to 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock (see headnote)
- 1 to 3 (2- to 4-inch) Parmesan rinds (optional; see NOTE)
- 3 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoons Calabrian chile oil, or another chile oil
- Crusty bread, for serving (optional)
- 3 ounces Parmesan, broken up into bite-size pieces (optional)
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, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook just until starting to brown, about 1 minute. Add the stock — start with 2 cups, and add more to thin out the soup, if desired — and Parmesan rind(s). Bring to a boil and cover; boil for 10 minutes. (You can simmer the stock for up to 2 hours, if you’d like, but it’s not necessary.)
Reduce the heat to medium, uncover and use tongs to 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.
(Per serving): Calories: 357; Total Fat: 7 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 413 mg; Carbohydrates: 54 g; Dietary Fiber: 13 g; Sugar: 3 g; Protein: 21 g.
Recipe from recipes editor G. Daniela Galarza.