Harissa made with fresh Chillies

My love of harissa began in Sicily many years ago. 

Harissa is a hot chilli condiment and the favoured national spice of Tunisia, but it is also popular in Algeria and Libya.

I  first tasted harissa about 30 years  ago in the home of one of my cousins in Augusta, Sicily. He was then a naval, mechanical engineer who had discovered harissa (stored in beautifully decorated little golden tins) through his many travels and work close to North Africa in the Mediterranean Sea . He gave me a tin to bring back to Australia and I have been making versions of harissa ever since .

Years later, in 2013 I visited Tunis where harissa was served with everything we ordered in restaurants and I first wrote a post about harissa on my blog  in the same year. 

Sometimes on the north-western and western coast  of Sicily you may find restaurants that make fish or meat couscous and accompany it with harissa or a chilli condiment. In Calabria chilli paste is also popular but this has no spices, just heat and salt.

Each batch of harissa I make is slightly different because I never weigh or measure ingredients, but unless I have an abundance of fresh chilies I use dry chillies or chilli flakes. 

I do have many fresh chillies at the moment.

There have been times that I have charred the fresh chilies, but this is far too fiddly. I like short cuts so I sauté them in a little extra virgin olive oil.

I love caraway seeds and this is always a key spice in any harissa condiment I make.

Quite a good deal of salt and extra virgin olive oil are a must for making harissa and not just for flavour but also as preservatives. I use oil to sauté the ingredients and then to drizzle into the food processor as the rest of the ingredients are mixing together. I also use the oil to cover the top of the paste in the jar to prevent mould forming.

Only sometimes do I add cumin and coriander seeds, but in small amounts to suit my mood and the particular food I wish to accompany the harissa with. Cumin and coriander are common in middle eastern cooking so there is no need to duplicate flavours if I have used those spices in the cooking.

This time I also added garlic, that I sautéed with the chillies, but I do not add garlic every time. Once again, if I use garlic in the cooked dish, why duplicate the flavour?

I added some smoked paprika to impart the smoky taste  and some sweet paprika, a little tomato paste and a fresh chargrilled red pepper. These ingredients add flavour, soften the taste, add bulk and make the paste smoother.

The juice and grated peel from 1 lemon adds flavour and sharpens the taste.

The procedure is simple. I remove the stem part of each chilli, but I do not de seed them, however this depends on the degree of their hotness  and how fiery you like the paste to be.

I had approx. 200g of chillies, 4 garlic cloves, 1 tbsp  of caraway seeds, 1/2 tbsp of cumin seeds, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 1tbsp salt, 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tbsp of each of the sweet and the smoked paprika, lemon peel and 1 red chargrilled pepper, peeled. 

* Please alter amounts of all ingredients to suit your taste.

Sauté the chillies with the garlic cloves. Once they are soft add the seeds and the paprika. Continue stirring over heat to toast the spices. Add the charred pepper (de-seeded and torn into strips), tomato paste and about 1/4 cup of water and cook briefly for a couple of minutes. Add lemon juice  when you have finished the cooking.

Blend everything adding more oil and the salt until you have a fairly smooth paste.

Bottle into sterilised jars and top with more oil. Store it in the fridge and  after you have used some of the paste, always top the paste  with more oil.


HARISSA (A hot chilli condiment) 

CREMA DI PEPERONCINI ; Hot Pepper Paste in Autumn




I have been away from home recently, and what I really enjoy is coming up with a dish using ingredients that I have…and need using up. This must be one of the reasons I enjoy camping and we always eat so well.

I had ‘nduja (a soft chilli-laden, soft salame from Calabria), a bunch of cime di rapa or rape (rape is plural of rapa) and some small and fabulous, pure pork sausages that I had cooked in some tomato salsa the day before. We had eaten most of these with polenta and these were left over.

What I did was simple. I braised the cime di rapa  in some garlic and extra virgin olive oil as I do when I cook cime di rapa with pasta.  Once cooked, I added the ‘nduja….probably too much, I love chilli but do others like it as much as I do? I could have used a half of the quantity and it still would have tasted great. The ‘nduja melts with the heat and coats the vegetables.


Next, I added the sausages and only a little of the tomato salsa. I was making a pasta sauce and not a soup a , so I needed just a little liquid.


I had rigatoni on hand, and some Sicilian pecorino pepato.

You will need to accept that it tasted vey good. So much so, Squid, that I did not have time to take a photo – it was gobbled up far too quickly by my two guests.

There are recipes for cooking with ‘nduja:

NDUJA, a spreadable and spicy pork salame from Calabria


‘NDUJA and CALAMARI as a pasta sauce

’Nduja with squid


‘NDUJA, a spreadable and spicy pork salame from Calabria

I always associate Calabrese cooking with chilli and perhaps unfairly, but my impressions were probably shaped many, many years ago when I was teaching in a country town on the Murray River in South Australia.

As a teenager I had been a guest to Vincenzo’s wedding in Adelaide (an acquaintance of my father). Many years later I caught up with him, his wife and children who had moved to a farm in Pyap, a small community near Loxton, and close to where I  was living and teaching at that time.


Like all Italians they were very hospitable and generous and I had many opportunities to sample their cuisine, but it seemed that everything I ate at their place seemed to contain chilli – fresh or preserved in a paste, or dried and then used as flakes or ground into a powder.

Similar to many Calabrese families (and other Italians mainly from southern Italy) they slaughtered a pig and made their smallgoods.

Chilli was part of all of the fresh sausages and the smallgoods made with the minced meat mixture (sopressata , cotechini, salame), but they also smeared a thick coating  of powdered chili on the surface all of their smallgoods (those made with minced pork and the non minced ones, for example capocollo and prosciutto).  I was told that food without chilli seemed flavourless, but more important was that a coating of chilli acts as a seal, a barrier,  it repels lies and is therefore a powerful and natural preservative.

A few years ago I was not surprised when I first read about the  amount of chilli in the Calabrian Nduja.  I remember that I first encountered this spicy, spreadable sausage in the mountains in Calabria about 16 years before. I did not know then, that it was to become a taste-sensation in Australia many years later.


My brother and I had been to Sicily to visit an old aunt and then we went to Calabria to visit Vince – a worker friend of my father’s and an old soccer mate of my brother’s. Vince is short for Vincenzo  and is a very common Calabrese name. Vince was the perfect host and drove us to visit many scenic beaches and mountainous areas in Calabria. We went to the Sila and drove through thickly wooded areas of oak, pine, beech, fir and chestnut trees where wild boars and porcini mushrooms thrive. In the mountains we visited monasteries and ancient chapels and ate in famous restaurants that featured the local produce (including a liqueur made by the monks from the wild mountain herbs). In these mountains we also visited a salumeria (produce store specializing in local produce and smallgoods) and that is where I first experienced ‘Nduja. I am sorry to say that I did not pay much attention to the ‘Nduja. because I was more excited by the local wild boar prosciutto and the dark and typical bread made with chestnut flour.


There is another interesting experience related to ‘Nduja. About six months ago I received an email from a person living in Malaysia who had found me through my blog. His daughter had toured through parts of Italy and loved ‘Nduja; she was getting married in Adelaide and he wanted to surprise her at her wedding by providing ‘Ndjua for the guests. He wondered if I knew where he could buy ‘Nduja in Adelaide and of course I knew – from Mercato, an Italian produce store in the suburb of Campbelltown. I hope that I made several people very happy.

Too many memories and not enough about ‘Nduja.

‘Nduja seems to be the most recent, Italian culinary discovery in Australia…  and I hope that it will not be anything like the craze (in the 70’s and 80’s?) of restaurants including bocconcini or dried tomatoes in anything Italian.

‘Nduja is cured in the same way as salame, but because of the high fat content (it is made from the fatty parts of the pig), it maintains a soft texture, is like a coarsely ground pâté and it is spreadable at room temperature. The dark, red colour is due to the large quantities of chillies .

We had it spread on fresh bread; a generous smear is enough.

Salami spread & martinis

Having it simply spread on bread is a start and we enjoyed it immensely. As you can see we also accompanied it with a dry Martini – this is not a drink that I would imagine Calabresi would have with ‘Nduja, but now and again I enjoy breaking convention.

Next time you make sugo (pasta sauce/ ragout),add some ‘Nduja to it as the Calabresi often do.

Dressing for pasta – Sugo with ‘Nduja


My sugo (sauce) is made with peeled tomatoes/ 1 bottle of passata, extra virgin olive oil, 1 onion, 3 pork sausages, 500g cubed pork and beef, 2 or more tablespoons of Njuda and oregano.

Sauté chopped onion in some extra virgin olive oil.

Add sausages (cut into large pieces), meat, Nduja and sauté these ingredients until light brown.

Add tomatoes and oregano, season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer the sauce until cooked.

Cook and dress a short-type pasta (for example: penne or rigatoni, shells, fusilli) with the sauce.

Serve the dressed pasta with grated pecorino cheese.

P.S. I should add that in Melbourne, I was able to buy ‘Nduja  at Bill’s Farm in the Queen Victoria Market. I also tried to buy it at The Mediterranean, Italian Supermarket, but they were out of stock.


I realize that I must like chillis very much.

The  photo of the plant of chillies above, is growing on my balcony.

In my fridge and pantry I found: Smoked sweet and hot paprika in tins,  a jar of hot pepper paste and an empty jar of the sweet pepper paste (similar to Adjvar which I usually have in my fridge ), a jar of my homemade harissa that is a staple in my fridge , there are chilli flakes  in a small yellow bowl that I place on the table (for certain dishes) together with salt and pepper grinders and a jar of Malaysian chilli jam.

I forgot to add (for the photo) the sweet and hot paprika that I use in my goulash and the whole dry chillies that I add to my jars of pickles and olives and I use for Indian cooking …and there may be even more chillies hiding in my cupboards!