"Sorry, no, that is just not hot enough. May I see the chef?" So said Gran Fran on a visit to a now defunct Asian Fusion retaurant in the Castro, on one of her many visits to the San Francisco familia. Though it didn't happen often, this kind of phrase passed Gran Fran's lips often enough for us to quietly await the chef's appearance, whereupon Gran Fran would make it abunduntly clear how spicy she told the waitperson she wanted her food to be. The chef would debate with her, telling her that there was no way she would be able to handle the full load of spicy that she requested.
But, in the end, the mighty Gran Fran would prevail and the chef would concede defeat, go back to the kitchen, and make her the hottest, spiciest chicken dish she could imagine. He would then stand tableside and witness my mother eat the whole plate, with a bit of watery eyes, but no other huge side affects. After episodes such as this, Gran Fran would leave with a handshake from the chef and accolades from all about her spice-enduring palette.
Back at home, while we were growing up, whenever there was entertaining going on, a nice antipasta spread would appear on the coffee table. The usual suspects were always there: salami, pepperoni, fresh mozarella, Italian bread or homemade focaccia (made from the local Italian baker's pizza dough at our house). My favorite amongst these treats, though, were the freshly fried Italian hot peppers. They are oily, spicy, salty and oh-so-satisfying all at the same time. Nothing tastes better than these on a piece of fresh Italian bread, with a bit of the cooing oil soaked into the bread.
Recently, I asked Gran Fran how old we were before she allowed us to eat the hot peppers. Her recollection is that they were just there, on the table and if you were interested, you could have some. In my mind, I think I was about ten years old when I first tried the peppers. It is unclear to me if I imagined this next part, if maybe it happened to one of my siblings, or if it was in one of the many Italian-American movie food scenes where I may have picked this up. But, I do recall spitting hot peppers across the dining room with them landing splat on the wall. Regardless if this did happen or not, I loved the hot peppers right from the get-go.
Another hazy recollection I have with my love affair with hot peppers, was the fact that while I was pregnant, I decided I had to have these peppers. Now, if you have ever been pregnant, it is safe to say that if you have a yearning for something, the desire to eat that something outweighs whether or not said something is a good idea for your little bambino. If memory serves me right, I recall having a very jumpy baby on the inside, and the feeling that a hole was being burned through my stomach.
But, I also remember being momentarily sated and contented by the familiar flavors and warm aromas of Gran Fran's Hot Peppers.
- 1 pound hot peppers, mixed, sliced in 1/4-inch rounds (No habaneros, their taste is too pronounced.)
- 4 cloves garlic, diced, not too small
- 1 cup (yes, one cup!) olive oil
- Generous sprinkling of coarse salt.