The crispy peppers of Tortora, so called “Zafarana”


Discovering the Zafarana or those red peppers, sweet and not at all spicy, with the characteristic shape of a goat’s horn, which once dried and cooked, have the peculiarity of being crispy. It is the tastiest fruit of summer vegetables.

Perhaps some will know the Senise peppers, others the Roggian peppers in the province of Cosenza. But still few know of the existence of Zafarana di Tortora, the first town in north-western Calabria, on the border with Basilicata. Here, for years, the youngest tell, the grandmothers baked “nzerte of zaferana” (wreaths of peppers) when they made bread, to then obtain the powder for use in the kitchen. Those same grandmothers who today look at their astonished grandchildren who return to their country just to cultivate zaferana, like some agronomists come from abroad. Because yes, in Tortora that much-vaunted return to youth farming is anything but a chimera or an illusion. It’s all true, with real names and faces and with a precise purpose: to enhance the Zafarana of Tortora.

Nzerte (wreaths) of Zafarana


Both that of Senise, that of Roggiano Gravina and Tortora peppers are part of the same family, or of those red peppers, sweet and not at all spicy, with the characteristic shape of a goat’s horn, which once dried and cooked, for their peculiarity of being crunchy, are justly called “cruschi” (crispy). Originating in Brazil, they are known in Italy and Calabria after the discovery of America and find their ideal habitat in the mild climate between Calabria and Basilicata, in that special soil of the most hilly areas.

Among the three tipology of peppers (Senise, Roggian and Tortora) there is no competition, on the contrary: there is a constructive relationship of collaboration and mutual support, all the farmers are aimed at making the world know about a product that is still so little known.


What differentiates the Zafarana from Tortora is that, having a slightly thinner skin, it tends to have less water stagnation and therefore lend itself more to drying. The name obviously brings us back to saffron: it derives from the same Arabic root of zafran, because the red color of the powdered zafarana is reminiscent of that of the crocus sativus. The latter is the well-known species of flowering plant of the Crocus genus in the iris family Iridaceae, famous for producing the spice saffron, from the filaments that grow inside the flower.

In reality, however, it is a very different product in terms of taste and cost, this is why it has been nicknamed “the saffron of the poor” because it is always present on the Tortorese tables. Here, in fact, every family has cultivated its zafarana since ancient times, so much so that in a church of the town a fresco of 1628 was found where it is depicted among eggplants and oranges.

Tortora, the town of Zafarana

The association La Zafarana di Tortora, with its president Giuseppe Limongi, a professional ceramist, tries to protect such an ancient product and to ensure that it remains a very small niche production. He told: “I am a deep lover of art and nature, and zaferana is nothing but a wonderful form of art present in nature“.


Tradition has it that the production of zaferana begins in March, during the week of Saint Joseph. Later, in April, when the seedlings are born, they are put in a seedbed until June; then the best are selected and planted in the fields between June and July. Harvesting can begin in August and also end in December depending on the weather.

Finally, once collected, they are twisted making a small hole with a needle one behind the other in the typical “nzerte” (wreaths ), or those braids of peppers that you see hanging in the houses, at the windows, on the balconies. The important thing is that they are ventilated and dry places, not exposed to the sun, but always in the shade and without humidity. So that they can last for months, even a year.

Then it can be eaten either fried (cooking lasts for a few seconds) in a pan, or in powder.


The typical way to cook zafarana is to use the powder (so called “pisata“) for cooking bolied potatoes (the plate is called “patane cca zaferana pisata“). The powder is also associated to consumption of oil, garlic and salt, paired with bread, eggs or dried figs.

Today the peppers are used in many ways in the kitchen, but the most recommended is to taste them alone, fried in a pan.  The second one can instead try the classic combination with cod, just as you traditionally eat the Senise pepper in Basilicata.

Zafarana Powder

Once powdered, however, one of the most traditional combinations is to sprinkle it over pasta such as lagane and chickpeas or spaghetti with garlic and oil, but also directly into fusilli or tagliatelle.

Alternatively, zaferana can also be added during the preparation of bread or biscuits. Also perfect on the second course: on the fried egg, on the meat with a drizzle of oil, or on the fish, since it also favors conservation.

Finally, why not try a nice risotto made exclusively with zafarana?


To taste the zafarana in all its forms, it is worthwhile going to the party that the association La Zafarana di Tortora has been organizing for ten years every first weekend of October, at the end of the harvest.

This is also the right occasion to learn a lot about this product: In addition to food and goliardic aspects, much importance is given to cultural aspects, with conferences on the benefits of zaferana, with interesting projects with schools and so on.

Further, this is also an opportunity to visit the town of Tortora, with a truly enviable historic center, like the nearby and delicious village of “Aieta“.

Sorb of Agnana (RC): ancient fruit of Calabria


Sorb of Agnana is the fruit of a plant, present since ancient times in Mediterranean Europe, from Spain to Greece, and also in the Asian part of the eastern Mediterranean, in the Anatolian peninsula, present-day Turkey, but, perhaps, it is native to northern Europe.

A juicy pear-shaped fruit


Its fruits, small, roundish or pear-shaped, are consumed after a short maturation.  From the last decade of October to November, is the most suitable period to collect from the rowan its wonderful fruits. Further, the most beautiful, thickest and possibly tastiest sorbs are in the above mentioned village, Agnana, near Reggio Calabria. Herein this fruit is known only to people who have a certain age…

However, at least 50% of the people even in Calabria not only have never tasted it, but they have never seen it either, so that it is often mistaken for a small apple; further, many  people naturally do not know the times of his maturation or even the way of eating it.

Brown after maturation

In fact, when the fruits are collect from the plant starting from the end of October, they are placed in a basket, made up of strips of intertwined canes, possibly together with straw, and when they became soft and changed in color,  rosé color or deep red or brown, it is the right time to consume them; then they can be brought closer to the lips and sucked, making with the fingers a slight pressure on the fruits. In fact, the peels cannot be eaten, as they are strongly astringent; from them comes out a sweet, creamy, slightly and pleasantly acidic content.

Change of colors during maturation

Of course today the rowanberries are eaten in the same way, but they are no longer placed in the baskets of intertwined canes, but rather when they happen to be found by those who know them, they are kept in normal containers.

In fact, this fruit has become very rare, present in some abandoned field, and is little known, so that when someone not informed about the characteristics of the fruit, by looking at a plant, catches just some small fruits and tries to bite them, he receives an unpleasant surprise, savoring something abominable in the mouth and that needs to be spit out.


The plant grows quickly in the first years of life, then very slowly and to reach half a meter in diameter it takes more than a hundred years; fortunately, it grows spontaneously in the Mediterranean woods.

A magnificent old tree

Its tree is compact, very heavy and resistant and has a very regular texture, so it is regularly used to make sculptures, especially saints, but also threaded logs for wine presses. It is not uncommon to find some monumental plant with beautiful fruits,  cream-colored and suffused with rosé colors, especially in Agnana, slightly piriform.

Other small plants can be also found between Gioiosa Marina and Gioiosa Jonica, in the property that in the past belonged to the Macrì Barons, which produce fruits of considerable size, cream-colored, but also in Condoianni and in Melia of San Roberto, where can be discovered plants old of centuries…

Red fruits after maturation