Those traveling among the towns of Basilicata, between the provinces of Potenza and Matera, will surely come across brilliant red necklaces hanging practically anywhere: on windows, balconies, houses' walls. They are crusco peppers (peperone crusco), a specialty of this land. In order to acquire the flavor and crunchiness that make them unique, they need to hang for weeks like clothes drying in the sun.
The red gold of Basilicata
The term “crusco” in the local dialect means crunchy, and it refers to the particular process of preserving of the crusco pepper. It’s also called peperone di Senise and in 1996 it was recognized as IGP. It can be found in three forms: pointed, conical or hooked. All the variations share common features, such as having the stalk very well attached to the pepper (so as not to break even after drying) and a reduced thickness of the pulp. The drying process is almost a ritual, passed down from generation to generation for centuries: the peppers are placed on cloths for three days, away from light. Then a string is passed through the stalks to form garlands, called serte, which in peasant families was a task usually for the daughters with the nimblest hands.
Just the right amount of crunch
Dried under the sun in the hot months (they’re harvested between July and August), the peppers lose most of their water and then are ready and can be removed from the serte to be fried in a pan or cooked in the oven. If the entire process respects the canons of tradition, they are still crunchy on the plate. In recent years the red garlands have also acquired a decorative value: some people leave them in the kitchen ready to use, but make sure they’re well displayed on the walls.