As far as produce goes, every season has something special to offer. The fall has copious amounts of wild mushrooms. Winter is loaded with root vegetables and hearty greens. The spring offers a reprieve from the long winter days with bright green English peas and grassy asparagus. And while summer is the most bountiful of all with…well, you name it; I look most forward to the later part of this season when peppers and chiles are in full stride. My favorites are the Hungarian hot-wax peppers that are long, slender spicy peppers that range from a yellow-green to an orange-red color. You may run across these beauties this time of year at your local farmers’ market.
This pepper and I share a relatively long history together. The Italians where I was brought up in Northeast Ohio grew as many as they could so they could pack them in oil, can them or preserve them to be enjoyed until the next year’s harvest. It was a source of pride for families to share their season’s preparations with each other and debate who had the best, the sweetest and the hottest peppers. The first thing to show up at the table in local Italian restaurants was a dish of Hungarian hot–wax peppers packed in oil with a side of warm, soft Italian bread for dipping. Truly heaven!
The Northwest version of this style of serving peppers is Mama Lil’s Peppers, which I happily found 10 plus years ago when a gentleman named Howard Lev stopped by Tutta Bella in Columbia City to give me a sample of his peppers—Mama Lil’s. I freaked out, since I was instantly transported back home to all of the fuss surrounding these peppers in my youth. When I told him that I was from Youngstown, Ohio, Howard looked at me and said, “I guess you know Abruzzi’s Café 422 and Jimmy Chieffo’s!” I was a bit bewildered at first, but it turned out that Howard and I were from the same hometown. We grew up dining in some of the same restaurants and his grandmother’s recipes were the inspiration behind his Mama Lil’s Peppers. What a small world!*
So, the time has come to celebrate these peppers and make them a focal point on a pizza. Please welcome the L’Aquila to the repertoire at Tutta Bella. Named after the capital city of the Abruzzo region, this pizza starts with extra virgin olive oil topped with basil and mozzarella. We then add Hungarian hot-wax peppers that we have cured in house, roasted red peppers, Italian sausage and a dusting of pecorino romano. We then show it some love in our 900-degree wood-burning oven before it arrives to you in a swirl of steamy goodness! It’s a balanced pizza showcasing the spicy (just a little), grassy greenness of the Hungarian hot-wax peppers that has been rounded out by the sweetness of the roasted red peppers.
The window for the Hungarian hot-wax peppers is short and we are lucky to hit it in its prime. We will only be running this special for 4 weeks beginning September 4th. Please come join me in a taste of my youth and enjoy a delicious L’Aquila pizza. Soon it will vanish until next year!
*Howard has since sold Mama Lil’s Peppers
EXECUTIVE CHEF & DIRECTOR OF FOOD AND BEVERAGE
Italian food has always played a role in Brian’s life in some capacity or another. Where he grew up in NE Ohio, families from Sicily, Naples and Abruzzo dominated the local Italian restaurant scene and he became inspired by their culinary traditions and flavors. Brian migrated west to Seattle and was hired as a cook when Tutta Bella opened its doors in 2004. He is now is the Executive Chef and Director of Food and Beverage with responsibility over all menu development. Brian is one of the first three, and the first American, recognized by the AVPN as a Senior Pizzaiolo and has spent countless hours training with many master pizzaioli in Naples and across the United States. Brian and Tutta Bella’s owner still meet every Friday morning to explore and share new ingredients and recipes.