Feeling hot, hot, hot.

Deep in Italy’s rugged south west – the ‘toe of the boot’ – the Calabrian summers are dry and hot. Very hot. Perfect conditions for growing the region’s best-loved ingredient – chillies. The fierce sun pumps the fruits full of flavour and chilli-heat and then slowly dries the picked chillies to intensify their potency even further. Come late summer, strings of home-grown fiery red peperoncini hang at almost every door and window; they’re traditionally reputed to ward off diseases.

Such is the passion for the peperoncino here that L’Accademia Italiana del Peperoncino (The Italian Chilli Academy) has been established to promote the gastronomical and medical properties of chillies. Each September it organises the annual chilli festival: a feast and street party not for the faint-hearted, and even less for those with sensitive palates. It’s a happy affair, and the Calabrians are happy people. It must be something to do with all that capsaicin: the chemical found in the membrane of chillies that’s been proven to produce a mildly euphoric state by triggering the release of endorphins in the body. (In other words hurting you enough to make your body release natural painkillers that make you slightly high!)

Not surprisingly, chillies find their way into much of the food that Calabria produces. The splendidly named producer Il Magnifici Del Mezzogiorno (literally, The Magnificent ones of Southern Italy) uses chillies and other ingredients from the region to make wonderful, traditional products naturally, with no artificial ingredients. Like this ‘Nduja di Spilinga which they make for us. ‘Nduja is a soft, spreadable pork salami which originated in the southern Calabrian town of Spilinga. Roasted red chillies lend a characteristically fiery taste. It’s delicious spread onto toasted country bread, or you could stir it into pasta sauces. If you’re a chilli-lover, you’ll love this! Endorphins at the ready…

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