Sprinkled over pasta, sauteed potatoes or fried eggs, or just as a nibble with drinks, cruschi (pronouned croosky) are a quintessential taste of Basilicata, southern Italy, and hard to find anywhere else. Thin-skinned, long, pointy red peppers from the area around the hill town of Senise have a low moisture content and are perfect for drying in the hot sun.
Quickly fried in olive oil, they combine the moreish crunch of potato crisps with the sweet smoky tang of peppers (they’re mild, though: there is little chilli hit to these).
Called Lucania in antiquity, when it was fought over by the Greek and Roman empires, Basilicata is the arch and instep of Italy’s boot. Historically poor and isolated, it produces delicious, rustic foods including fennel-flavoured lucanica sausage, cacioricotta goat’s cheese, and huge loaves of Matera bread. Cruschi, which have IGP protected-origin status, are harvested by hand from August onwards – backbreaking work in the summer heat – then strung into necklaces and hung outside houses to dry.
As the heat of the afternoon fades, a glass of chilled local malvasia bianca makes a perfect aperitivo with chunks of pecorino scattered with shards of cruschi, and slices of local salami made with powdered peppers that looks (but doesn’t taste) like chorizo. A good place to try cruschi is restaurant A’ Rimissa in the pretty town of Rotonda, named for its site in a circle of green hills. It serves them with baccalà (salt cod) and poverelli white beans, with a side of marinated slices of another unique local ingredient, the red aubergine.
Hyper-local foods, produced, cooked and served with pride … It’s what holidays are all about.