With its colours, its fleshy pulp, its tickling smell and taste, Capsicum, or Pepper as it is known in Italy represents an intense gastronomic experience.
Capsicum is a real Nature’s gift.
It is the symbol of the luxuriant gardens extending on the floodplains of the Po and the Tanaro, rivers of Northern Italy. What would be Piedmontese region cuisine without this great vegetable?
According to traditional tales, first pepper variety to reach Europe was the chilli one, thanks to Cristoforo Colombo, who brought it from Isla Hispaniola in 1493. At first, as with tomatoes, capsicums were used as table floral ornament, on the occasion of banquets.
When finally someone picked up the courage to taste the fruit, he found it so pungent, like a gigantic peppercorn, a peperone.
Actually capsicum cultivation started in Europe around 1700, initially spreading in the temperate-hot regions of Southern Provence, where the vegetable was called “povron”.
In Piedmont cultivation developed right from the start in the areas of Carmagnola, Motta d’Asti, Cuneo and Tanaro valley.
Particularly, in the environs of Motta di Costigliole and Carmagnola, where local farmers applied selective breeding and natural methods to produce capsicum, peculiar varieties emerged.
Thanks to this scrupulous selection, peperone has maintained its distinctive flavour and features up to today.
This way we can still enjoy it, cooked according to traditional Piedmontese cuisine: stuffed or roasted, raw with bagna càuda, in peperonata or with tuna and anchovies sauce.
It is interesting to know that the pepper is characterized by valuable nutritional features: low in calories, it is reach in mineral salts and vitamins. Especially vitamin C, the capsicum provides greater quantities than even oranges, lemons and tomatoes.
Capsicum cultivation and industrial usage
In Italy, sowing season of capsicum cultivated in the open air is winter.
Harvest starts in July and goes on until the end of October, following seasonal trend. Fruits are picked at different maturity degrees depending on their future use: just ripened to be eaten raw and for industry, fully ripened for drying.
Main original cultivars are:
- Quadrato d’Asti (Asti square capsicum): with thick wall, excellent eaten raw, stuffed or roasted.
- Corno di bue (Ox-horn pepper): horn shaped, it is ideal for peperonata and various preparations. Thanks to its firm pulp, it is much appreciated by industry and restaurants.
- Trottola (Top pepper): top shaped, blunt nosed or with curved point. Trottola pepper is a versatile variety, ideal for all preparations.
- Tumaticot: rounded hybrid variety. Its compact shape and thick pulp make it suitable for antipasto dishes as well as for particular and premium preparations (for example: sweet-and-sour peppers).
For its preparations of Antipasti and Pasta sauces, Saclà uses capsicum varieties deriving from quadrato d’Asti and ox-horn cultivars. Originally Saclà’s suppliers were located in Tanaro valley, near the firm premises. During the ‘70s the majority of vegetable cultivation moved to Southern Italy to satisfy industry needs, while local farmings still produce sufficient volumes for table consumption.