Making Olio Santo

While in Matera this past summer, I learned the recipe for what they call olio santo (holy oil): extra virgin olive oil infused with peperoncini (chili peppers).

This is a Southern Italian staple, a spicy oil usually spooned onto a dish of pasta or a bowl of soup, or even a slice of bread. I also like it on pizza to add spiciness. I like the oil because it’s also flavorful and moist, unlike hot red pepper flakes which are dry and crispy and add spiciness only.

It’s very simple to make. First, separate the peppers from the bunch, but leave a few inches of stem attached, otherwise water will get inside the peppers when you wash them. Wash them and lay them out to dry thoroughly.

When they are dry, cut off the lower tips of the peppers (otherwise they will float in the oil when they are in the jars).

Slice the peppers and cut the tops off.

Set up a colander with a bowl underneath it. Put the pepper slices into the colander. When you have a layer, sprinkle generously with salt.

Keep slicing peppers until you’ve done them all, adding a layer at a time to the colander and sprinkling each layer with salt.

When you’re finished, mix the peppers slightly to evenly distribute the salt (the salt drains the water out of the peppers and helps preserve them). Then let the colander sit for four or five hours (or overnight, if that’s more convenient.)

After that time, you will see some liquid in the bowl that drained out of the peppers. Press the peppers with something flat (like a mid-sized plastic container lid) to squeeze more liquid out of the peppers.

It’s easier to squeeze fistfuls of peppers in your hands, like I mistakenly did the first time I made these on my own, but I don’t recommend that because eventually your hands will burn! Avoid touching your eyes or mouth as well while working with spicy peppers. Using a lid is fine because there’s no need to get every single drop of water out of the peppers.

Spoon the peppers into small wide-mouthed glass jars. The number of jars will vary depending on how many peppers you used. Fill the jars most of the way with peppers, but leave an inch or so at the top. Press the peppers down lightly with a spoon.

Fill the jars with extra virgin olive oil. Screw the lids on.

Voil√†! That’s all there is to it. Now wait three weeks for the flavors to mingle and the peppers to infuse the oil. (Sorry! There’s no way around that.)

Spoon the oil sparingly onto whatever dish you would like to spice up and flavor. Use a little or a lot, depending on how spicy you like it. You can eat the pepper slices too, which are quite hot. The jar should last for about a year. You can also control the level of spiciness by adding fewer peppers to each jar.

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2 Responses to Making Olio Santo

  1. teresa says:

    brava michelle! precisa e chiarissima, come al solito.
    è un piacere leggerti.