Cooking Local with Francesca – Chilli


Hot Hot Hot… I have always loved chilli! Luckily in Vanuatu lots of different varieties of chilli abound on the markets’ tables. Habanero chilli is the hottest and most common, red in colour, small, round and wrinkly, followed by the popular Bird’s Eye tiny chillies and the Serrano traditional long-shaped red and green chillies. Jalapenos are harder to find; green, meaty and with an oval shape, they are mild and lovely when stuffed with cream cheese, crumbed and deep fried… very tempting!

Vanuatu’s hot and humid climate means chillies are easily subject to spoilage and mould. To avoid this, chillies can be preserved by drying them in the oven for six to eight hours depending on their size, at 40C if fan-forced oven or 80C otherwise. Serrano chillies are best for this, cut in half, deseeded and placed on a baking dish skin side up. They are ready when they start to brown and should be kept in a cool and dry place. Dried chillies make beautiful chilli-infused oil, an easy way to have a precious condiment in your pantry. Take 250ml of good olive oil, 5 to 10 finely chopped dry chillies depending on size, and a couple of whole dried chillies. Gently warm up the oil while adding the chillies and cook for at least 5 minutes to infuse. Leave to cool and filter the oil through a fine sieve before placing it in a sterilized bottle with the whole chillies and store in the fridge. I also like preparing a delicious chilli jam to enjoy with cheese and cold meat platters. You will need 200g of fresh red hot chillies, 800g of red capsicum to add texture and sweetness, 500g sugar, 1 pinch of salt and 50ml of red wine. Wash, de-seed and chop the chillies and capsicum into small pieces. Cook all ingredients in a pot partially covered over low heat for one hour. Pass the mixture through a sieve, pressing on the skins to get as much pulp as possible and cook for a further 30 minutes, skimming the white froth as it forms. When the jam is dense enough, preserve it in a small, sterilized glass jar for at least one month in the fridge before using. Unopened, it will keep for up to six months but once opened is best consumed within a week – check there is no mould when opening.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat about chilli with pasta? The famous pasta dish called “Puttanesca” (Slutty) celebrates chilli and other tasty ingredients. They say this delicious pasta was served at the ‘Case di appuntamento’ – Appointment Houses, or brothels- as another sensual attraction for the male patrons. For each serve you will need 100g of chopped peeled tomatoes, a pinch of chopped fresh chilli or more to your liking, 25g of sliced black olives, 1 teaspoon of capers, 2 anchovy fillets, one clove of chopped garlic, ½ tablespoon of chopped parsley, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a pan and dissolve the anchovy fillets before adding the rest of the ingredients except for the tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes and continue to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until you have a smooth sauce. Toss through the cooked pasta (preferably spaghetti) over heat, add a sprinkle of extra fresh chopped parsley and serve. Really seductive…

If you like it hot, add chilli to pasta sauces; put fresh chopped chilli through vegetables or how about a splash of chilli oil over a mouth-watering just-baked pizza… There are a hundred ways to enjoy its spicy taste! Chillies are rich in Vitamin C and B and believed to be a good analgesic. Chillies also have their place in folklore: the city of Naples believes the chilli will protect against the evil eye, called ‘malocchio’, envy and hatred. In every way, a chilli a day may keep bad things away!

Buen appetito e alla prossima…ciao, ciao, Francesca.

Francesca’s restaurant is located in lovely Havannah Harbour. Ph +678 7719898. [email protected]