“Our family has many warmhearted memories of spending time with Grandpa Nicholas Domenico ‘Nick’ Riccelli in the kitchen making Italian sausage,” says Michele. “Grandma Theresa (Ausilio) Riccelli (97 years old) remembers all the times her family would spend together stuffing sausage into casings and later adding it to their pasta sauce. She will tell you that her children and grandchildren loved shaping the Italian sausage into patties and having them as a sandwich topped, of course, with fried ‘Ausilio Thin Skin Italian’ peppers and provolone cheese. Our family also enjoys this sausage on top of pizza or just fried up with some ‘Ausilio Thin Skin Italian’ peppers and onions.”
Combine the pork and seasonings into a large bowl and blend well.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight.
Cook mixture in a skillet over medium heat until it is no longer pink.
Wearing plastic gloves (peppers are spicy), wipe off the peppers with a damp cloth.
Use a knife to cut out and/or de-seed the peppers and then cut them into thin slices to help the peppers dry out in the oven more quickly.
Put foil over a baking sheet and place the sliced peppers and all the seeds on top. (The seeds produce the heat and extra spice.)
Place the baking sheet on the lowest rack of an oven preheated low to medium (about 200 degrees).
Every two hours, flip over the peppers for even drying. Bake peppers for several hours until crisp; this could take nearly six hours.
Remove the peppers from the oven when they have reached the proper degree of dryness; the pepper should snap in half and will easily crumble between your fingers.
Once the peppers are brittle, place them into a bowl and crush them up; a mortar and pestle set works well. (Flakes can be crushed more to make a powder, if preferred.) Store pepper flakes in a jar with a lid alongside your other spices.
Note: Making these flakes in the oven is preferred; however, you can use a dehydrator as well.
This Italian family heirloom pepper was donated to Seed Savers Exchange in 2015 by Chad and Michele Ogle-Riccelli of Des Moines, Iowa. Chad’s great-grandparents, Giovanni “John” Ausilio and Rachel P. Scarcello, immigrated from Italy in the early 1900s. Their daughter Theresa continues to grow the pepper, which today is at the center of the family’s culinary traditions.
When asked why the family chose to preserve this pepper and save seeds form year to year, Chad says, “As Grandma (Theresa Ausilio Riccelli) would tell you, they are her family seeds. Something that special, you love and pass on for generations to come…These peppers are part of our heritage.”