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This is an illegal substance, or at least probably should be. It definitely looks like a by-product of chemical weapons manufacture. I am, of course addicted, as I am to anything that contains chillies. I have a number of varieties growing in pots on my terrace, and these are my very local source for the raw materials. You’ll find recipes for chillies in oil/chilli oil elsewhere, but the crucial difference here is that the chillies are cooked. And in my experience the end result not only lasts longer but develops a fuller flavour. Although it’s ready for consumption immediately, it improves with time, and is at its best between 6 months and a year after production.
This subtle but crucial tweak to the standard version, namely the idea of applying heat, is from my friend, Angelo the herbalist, Sicily’s answer to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. When you watch him spooning out dried flowers and sipping tea, it would be hard to imagine that he is equally happy catching, gutting and smoking fish, or shooting game. Take this man into the country and before you know it he’ll have found mushrooms, berries and wildlife worth eating, and have transformed them into lunch. A real food hero.
The quantities are vague and variable, and depend on whether you want chilli oil, or chillies in oil. You may also like more or less garlic. Don’t leave out the fennel seeds, though. Personally, I prefer a high ratio of chillies to oil, and I spoon these bright red beauties over practically anything, from pizza to pork chops to soups. They’re also great mixed with cream cheese or tuna and spread on bruschetta…
Makes one litre
- A few handfuls of red chilli pepper
- 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds, lightly crushed
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
- 1 litre of extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 140°C to sterilise the jars (see below).
- Roughly chop the chillies.
- Gently cook the chillies in enough oil to cover them, together with the garlic and the fennel seeds. Season well with salt.
- When the chillies begin to soften, remove from the heat and spoon into sterilised jars or bottles, using a jam funnel to make life easier, if you have one.
- Top up with the remaining oil if necessary, and seal.
Sterilising jars. Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water and rinse very well. Place on a baking tray and heat in a preheated oven at 140°C for 45 minutes. Fill when still hot.