Pimp My Peperoncini Pasta
August 28, 2016 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I've had really great peperoncini pastas out at restaurants, but have not been able to replicate them at home - my home cooked version(s) lack flavor (sad and bland) and just don't have that oily, savory slickness you get in a great restaurant version. I've been using this and similar recipes, and am a medium-experienced cook. Anyone have tips, tricks, or a recipe you love?

(Note: the peperoncini involved here is a small red chili pepper, which (I believe) is different from the light green pepperoncini you find a jar, on Greek salads, etc.)
posted by sallybrown to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (related question - if I'm at a grocery store with only 3 or 4 varieties of peppers, I go with the generic red chili pepper they have there - should I be choosing something different?)
posted by sallybrown at 10:51 AM on August 28, 2016

Are you using nice ingredients? I imagine in such a simple recipe that the quality of the peppers and, in particular, oil, matters very much.

Seeing your followup, I would look into dried peppers or pepper flakes as well.
posted by papayaninja at 10:54 AM on August 28, 2016

Response by poster: For the non-pepper ingredients, I usually use fresh garlic from my local farmer's market, fresh handmade pasta from the small Italian goods store up the street, good quality olive oil, and grocery store parsley. I salt the water generously before cooking the pasta.
posted by sallybrown at 10:57 AM on August 28, 2016

In addition, putting a little butter in with the oil may add some of that slickness. Can't really go wrong with butter.
posted by papayaninja at 10:57 AM on August 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I make that with the dried whole red chili peppers I buy at the Japanese grocery. It's delicious. (I know this is sort of non-specific and unhelpful, but they only ever sell one kind of whole red dried chilis and I buy that one....)
posted by chocotaco at 10:59 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Absolutely, more oil than you think you need and probably less cooking water - in a restaurant the water is normally a lot starchier than it gets in the few minutes you cook your pasta.

As for bland, your chilli peppers are not hot enough/the restaurants add additional heat. Add some dried chilli flakes or a dash of chilli sauce, whatever you have to hand.

I've been known to make an even more basic versions of this and I use a knob of salted butter, a lot of garlic, a few dashes of Tabasco and I'm done. Plenty slippery and tasty.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:33 AM on August 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

1. Are you salting your pasta water enough?

2. Are you using enough oil?

3. Almost every time I've ever had this, it's been with dried crushed red pepper rather than fresh. If using fresh, you should triple check that you're using the correct pepper and enough of it. The recipe you link is not at all clear on the type of peppers to use, because "peperoncini" is just a generic Italian word for hot peppers. "The generic red pepper found in my supermarket" sounds like it could be a red bell pepper or something. Which will be sweet rather than hot. Not all peppers are spicy peppers. (I'm racking my brain for a "generic" spicy red pepper found in most supermarkets and can't think of anything much. Most of the spicy red peppers are less common in supermarkets, and most of the easy to find hot peppers like jalapeƱo, poblano, etc. are green.)
posted by Sara C. at 11:54 AM on August 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

The generic answer to "How do I make this taste like it did at the restaurant?" is "More heat. More salt. More butter."
posted by Bruce H. at 12:44 PM on August 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

If your local stores have Fresno peppers, maybe give them a shot. They're my go-to peppers for aglio olio, puttanesca, and in various Indian-ish things. I find them a lot more flavorful than similar hot pepper varieties, and even stores with limited varieties often have them. (I'm in the US southwest, and I don't know if that's applicable elsewhere.) They're fairly mild, so you want to use a little more than usual, probably.

Unfortunately, they don't dry well, so if you can't find them fresh, they're probably not an option.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:01 PM on August 28, 2016

I wonder about the quality of the fresh pasta you're using. A really good dried pasta will be better than OK fresh pasta, and I believe in Italy that dried pasta is preferred for this application. In addition, I suggest using the smallest amount of water in the pot that you can manage, as you'll have a greater starch-to-water ratio (though you'll have to keep your eye on the pot and stir it a lot so that the pasta doesn't stick to the bottom).
posted by mr_suboptimal at 1:45 PM on August 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would use dried pasta and dried peppers (or crushed red pepper flakes), and I would not include any of the pasta water.

And add parmesan at the end. No butter.

Marcella Hazan's Aio e Oio.

posted by lazuli at 2:03 PM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, I missed that you're trying to do this with fresh pasta. Fresh pasta is delicious, but Aglio e Olio is a dried pasta dish.

Fresh and dried pastas aren't interchangeable and are used in totally separate dishes with different flavor profiles. It's not as if fresh is superior and dried is some inauthentic crap Italy exports to stupid Americans.

The recipe you linked calls for linguine or spaghetti. Follow it.
posted by Sara C. at 3:16 PM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know anything about this dish, but your description made me think of this peperoncino oil/pepper relish that I love. I can vouch for its heat and savory slickness. If these are attributes you're looking for, a spoonful of this will up the ante in any dish. (If you happen to live in Chicago, I will gift you a jar, as I'm working my way through a case my grocery store special-ordered for me.)
posted by ndg at 5:11 PM on August 28, 2016

@ndg Don't hold out on us! What is the name of this amazingly tasty-sounding relish?
posted by SakuraK at 6:38 PM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ok, first off memail me your address and I will send you a jar of the common dried pepperoncini when I am stateside next month. I couldn't find proper dried whole chiles last time I was in Dallas and so that was in everyone's gift bags my next visit. In theory the dried crushed red chile should be the same, but it's a fail every time I used it.

There are many types of pepperoncini - I ate a fingernail thin slice of a fresh green one from Abruzzo and involuntarily had tears and snot running out of my face like someone turned on a tap. It was also delicious.

I love mark bittman but his recipe just seems a bit off to me for ajo ojo e peperoncino. Here is the version I was taught here over the years. I don't have exact quantities because I eyeball it depending on how many people are eating. Let's say this is for about 250-350g of spaghetti.

Start boiling the salted water for the pasta - spaghetti, not linguini, and dried not fresh. In a 10" skillet I glug in olive oil to the depth of around halfway up my pinky nail. Two large cloves of garlic smushed with the back of my knife, not sliced. 2-3 whole dried chiles if I'm making it for my kids too, 4-5 if not. Heat over low heat while the pasta is cooking. Flip the garlic when it's lightly browned in one side. When it's fully toasted on all sides and the oil is fragrant, turn off the heat and take out the garlic and chilies- you don't want them to burn.

Cook the pasta for maybe a minute or 3o seconds less than what is says
In the package for Al dente. I go by the bite test on this generally because it differs from brand to brand. There should be the barest bit of white in the cross section. When the pasta is almost done take a half to two-thirds if a large ladle (a full cup is probably too much) and add to the oil; turn the heat back on low, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta and combine with the sauce. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, tossing as you go.

Take off the heat and add the parsley in laaaast. You don't want wilted and mushy, you want crisp green to contrast with the heat.

No butter.

My grandmother's Christmas version (her family was from Naples) melts in anchovies into the oil first, then adding the garlic and chiles.

buon appetito!
posted by romakimmy at 5:21 AM on August 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

And I will guess that the hot relish from Chicago is giardiniera (my family is from there). Yes it's hot and yummy, but not really the same flavour profile as a standard ajo e ojo.
posted by romakimmy at 5:27 AM on August 29, 2016

Oops - how could I forget the link? Cento Extra Hot Calabrese Peperoncino.

This is some special stuff, let me tell you, but hard to find. It has the consistency of dried chili flakes suspended in bright red oil, but I believe they're fresh peppers (two kinds, I don't have the jar in front of me). Unlike other hoagie spreads, there's no vinegar element to this, but it does have a very slight tang/funk that's probably a feature of the peppers used.

The only grocery store in Illinois that carries it (that I'm aware of, and I've talked to Cento several times) is the Pete's Fresh Market in Oak Park, and I'm directly responsible for that.
posted by ndg at 7:42 AM on August 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

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