Waiter, can I have some spicy?

If you’ve followed this blog for quite a while, you’ll know that I lived in Italy for a year a while back. In fact, that’s how all of this began. I needed a place to write down all the new things I learned to cook, and all the old ones that I kept forgetting I knew.

I’ve not been to Italy for over a year now. I haven’t had the time, the cash, and maybe not even the urge – there was so much other stuff to do. I only realised this week that this bothers me, and by now it’s probably too late to go – I’ve been looking for a job, and I’ve just started to get things rolling, so I need to stay put and be available for interviews, in case I get one sorted out.

That’s a shame, because Italy is such a wonderful place, and it’s not that far away from where I’m staying now, so I should’ve taken a flight when I still had the chance.

Ah well, what’s done is done, and if I get this job sorted, the future has another very exciting country in stock for me. Until I get to that next exciting place, I can just try to pretend I’m in Italy right here. With plenty of Italian food, Italian music, and with oli aromatizzati, or flavoured oils.

Italians seem to love this, or at least, the spicy version. They call it ‘piccante’ (which really just means ‘spicy’ – I’m not sure if the word ‘oil’ is implied in the sentence, or if they actually just want some spicy, in any form or shape), and they’ll ask for it if it’s not on the table yet to drizzle over their pizza, mostly. Although I’ve seen them pour it on just about anything – sort of like my other favourite nation that pours vinegar and ketchup on everything. Today we’re making the spicy version, and another one, mild but aromatic, with some green herbs.

oil olio aromatizzato

NB: in the pictures, you’ll see that I tried to jazz up my spicy oil with a clove of garlic, and that I used fresh herbs for my aromatic herb oil. It has been pointed out to me in the meantime that putting and keeping fresh garlic and herbs in oil is actually pretty risky business – apparently the bacteria spores responsible for causing botulism, with which fresh produce might be contaminated, tend to spread quite rapidly when kept at room temperature without oxygen, which is exactly what a jar full of olive oil would be. I apologise for posting this potentially dangerous recipe and suggest you omit the garlic and replacing the fresh herbs with dried ones when preparing these aromatic oils. I also recommend storing these oils in the fridge for no more than two weeks.

You can make aromatic oil with just about anything you fancy, as long as it is absolutely dry. I quite like these ingredients. For two jars of oil you will need:

  • enough extra virgin olive oil – the jars in the picture hold 300ml each

For the spicy:

  • 5 dried chillis

For the herby:

  • a small sprig of rosemary
  • a couple of sprigs of fresh parsley
  • a couple of bay leaves

The most important part is that you clean and dry your jars properly. I boiled mine, but some people say the dish washer does as good a job. I wouldn’t know, but use whatever method you prefer.

If you’re boiling them, stick a tea towel in a pot(this to prevent them from clashing against each other or the pot and breaking), put the jars and their lids in, then fill it with water, making sure the jars themselves are filled and that the water reaches all the way to the top of the jars. Now stick the pot on the fire, bring the water to a boil, then leave the jars for half an hour or so.

sterilizing jars

Whilst you’re sterilizing the jars, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Wash the herbs if necessary, and if you do, make absolutely sure they’re completely dry before you put them in their jar. Use a hair dryer if you must (I used some paper towel which worked fine).

After half an hour, carefully pour the liquid out of the pot, then lift the jars out, empty them and put them on a clean, dry tea towel to dry. Check that they’re absolutely, completely dry before putting any of the ingredients in, and use some paper towel to get the last moisture out if you need to.

Now put the ingredients in the jars, the chillies in one jar, and the herbs and bay leaves together in the other. Pour the oil in, enough to cover all the ingredients, but don’t let the jars overflow. Put on the lids (make sure they’re dry, too!) and put the jars in a cool, dry, and dark place for no more than two weeks. Use on pizzas, salads, to spice up meats or for just about anything you fancy, really.

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