Calabrian chilli (Italian hot peppers), Calabria is a land of chillies, a bit like Puglia is to orecchiette and Emilia Romagna to tortellini. In particular, the typical Calabrian pepper, also known as Diavolicchio, is one of the most widespread and spicy varieties among those grown in Italy.
This homegrown fruit is part of the capsicum annuum species, thanks to its flavor it is appreciated in the kitchen and is also a decidedly productive cultivar.
Before experimenting with exotic varieties of Mexican or oriental peppers we can therefore choose a typical local product. Let’s discover the characteristics and the secrets to grow Calabrian peppers in our garden!
The devil plant
The Calabrian devil is a beautiful plant, with small leaves, with fruits that grow in bunches. For this reason it is also called “Calabrian chilli in bunches”.
When temperatures are steadily above 25 degrees, the bushes are filled with numerous chillies. The bunches are often so many that it is necessary to use a support to tie the plant to to support its weight. The diavolicchio plant is in fact very productive and offers a rich harvest of these small tapered red peppers!
Characteristics of chilli
The fruits of Calabrian chilli are slightly oval tapered in shape, with a tip at the apex, which curves slightly in a characteristic way.
Initially green, they turn bright red when ripe. The length of the fruit is on average between three and five centimeters.
Given its large production throughout the peninsula, it is evident that there are many cultivars of this pepper. The Calabrian devil therefore comes in different variants, the main ones are:
- Calabrese Alberello
- Calabrese Conico
- Calabrese Grosso
- Calabrese Lungo
- Small Calabrese
- Calabrese Sottile
- Calabrese Tondo
- Calabrese Tondo Dolce
Scoville degree of spiciness
Diavolicchio is the hottest variety of chilli peppers typical of Italy. It has an average spiciness that is around 100,000 / 150,000 SHU, even if there are Calabrian varieties at 20,000 or 30,000 SHU.
Obviously, this value must be taken with the springs: the differences fluctuate a lot according to the variety and cultivation practices. However, we have a chilli pepper that is rather rich in capsicin, and therefore spicy.
Even if it cannot compete against the very spicy capsicum chinense, such as habanero or carolina reaper, to be a capsicum annuum it defends itself well.
Organoleptic characteristics and culinary use
The diavolicchio is a very widespread variety in Italy and plays a leading role in the typical Calabrian cuisine. It has an unmistakable, very fresh scent, which aromatizes first and second courses, giving the recipes a strong and spicy flavor. Its use is also excellent to give a slight spiciness to the main condiments, or to consume it in jars in oil.
Cultivating Calabrian peppers
The cultivation of Calabrian diavolicchio is not very different from other peppers. The fact that we are struggling with a chilli of Italian origin helps us, from a climatic point of view, it remains a summer vegetable that requires mild temperatures and excellent sun exposure.
The plant is very productive, especially if we grow it in the ground, then planting it in the garden or in the vegetable garden. However, it is a chilli pepper that also works well in pots, provided you have a balcony that receives light for most of the day.
For simplicity we can choose to buy seedlings in the nursery, it is not difficult to find the Calabrian pepper. Alternatively, starting from the seed you will have the satisfaction of seeing the seedling born and grow from the beginning, gradually acclimating it for subsequent planting.
Start with the seed
In order for the seeds of devil to germinate, the temperatures, even at night, must not drop below 15 ° C.
Depending on the Italian area, it is necessary to wait for March, in the north also for April. In central or southern Italy, mild temperatures already at the end of February allow for early sowing. A heated seedbed eventually allows us to leave earlier.
In the sowing of chilli pepper, germination is one of the moments to be taken care of, since the external integument of this species is quite rigid. The paper towel method is one of the best known and easiest ways for chilli pepper seeds to germinate successfully.
Just get a transparent plastic tray with lid, where you can put a few layers of absorbent paper on the bottom. Better to drill a few holes in the lid. Take the seeds and place them on the bottom, on top of the absorbent paper layer, spacing them from each other. Distance is important: after germination, it must be easy to separate the seeds from each other, avoiding breaking the fragile rootlets.
After a few days, you will notice the appearance of condensation in the bottom of the container. A sign that the humidity is right. We make sure that it does not become too much, causing rot.
The temperature during the pre-germination days must never drop below 15 – 20 degrees, and must not exceed 30 degrees. Obviously the interior of the house is perfect for this phase. With these conditions, the seeds should germinate in 7-10 days.
As the seeds sprout, a small root will form. At that point, gently take the seeds and place them in pockets or glasses with soil for sowing, taking care to bury the root part and to leave the seed just above the layer of earth.
Prepare the ground
The Calabrian pepper plant, like all capsicum annuum cultivars, prefers a very sunny area. The plant will have a better posture if it is sheltered from the wind.
The ideal soil for the Diavolicchio must be permeable and fertile, rich in already decomposed organic substance, even if these plants adapt to soils of a different nature.
The chili pepper fears water stagnation almost more than drought. This is why we take care of the processing well (digging in particular).
Planting Calabrian peppers
The transplanting of the seedlings generally takes place after about 40 days from sowing, when the seedlings exceed 10 cm in height.
The sixth of the plant provides distances between the rows of 80-100 cm and between the plants on the row of 40-50 cm. Given the productivity in the vegetable garden, we can be satisfied with a few plants.
Irrigation of chillies
As with most plants, the chili pepper fears water stagnation, and needs constant and modest irrigation. In the summer, it is also advisable to irrigate every day to avoid the risk that the plant goes into suffering, always avoiding wetting the leaves to prevent the spread of fungal diseases. If we grow in pots it is advisable to water more often.
On the other hand, high temperatures must be avoided: they can cause the flowers and fruits to drop, compromising their production. In this regard we can help ourselves with shading nets.
Collection of chillies
The diavolicchio is harvested starting from May / June, according to the geographical area. The plant continues to produce fruit until October. The lowering of temperatures puts an end to the harvest period. The diavolicchio plant would be perennial, but in Italy it is generally not allowed to overwinter and it is preferred to remove it in the autumn to re-sow the following year.
Understanding when the Calabrian pepper is ripe is simple, based on the bright red color, which must be uniform over the entire surface.