Jimmy Nardello Heirloom Peppers: From Italy to your Plate

They’ve come a long way, baby!

by Marcy Harris

A pair of Jimmy Nardello peppers, freshly picked.

A couple years ago, Ari and his lovely girlfriend and farmer extraordinaire, Tammie Gilfoyle, introduced the Roadhouse to the Jimmy Nardello heirloom pepper. They had fallen in love with these babies in California, and couldn’t wait to try growing them out in the former Roadhouse Farm hoop house as well as in our Out Front Farm patch (as the name suggests, they were grown in front of the restaurant).

We successfully produced a small batch of them, and were able to run them as a special for a bit. I loved having them in front of the restaurant, because I could just walk by on the way in to work and snag one to munch on. This year Tammie has grown a few out at Tamchop Farm, and we have been able to source bushels of them from Land Loom Farm to feature on our menu! It’s super exciting to know that this sweet, delicious pepper is taking off locally. They have a really cool history of how the seed got to be here so that these glossy red beauties could end up on your plate.

Booking passage for one pepper, please.

The Nardello can be traced back to Giuseppe and Angella Nardello, who grew it in their garden year after year in their Italian village, Ruoti. In 1887, they came to America with their daughter Anna and the seeds of their beloved pepper. After settling in Naugatuck, Connecticut, they started up a garden where they could plant these seeds.

It’s a success story for the seeds, and one of many. Immigrants often brought seeds with them, sewn into the lining of their clothes even. If you are leaving your home country and you don’t know if you are ever coming back, you bring those things that are the most important to you. That link is crucial, because otherwise the authentic, regional cuisine we know today won’t taste the way it is supposed to.

It’s so romantic, but at the same time surreal to think that if Giuseppe and Angella hadn’t brought their seeds, we would not be enjoying Nardello peppers today. The thought is almost enough to keep me up at night. Thankfully, they did, and out of their 11 children, their son Jimmy inherited his parents’ love of gardening. He carefully maintained the terraced beds, similar to what the family would have cultivated in their mountainous region back in Italy.

Under his care, the pepper thrived, and it became his namesake. The long, thin-skinned pepper dries easily, and was perfect for keeping through the cold Connecticut winters. Ever see a photo of dried peppers strung up and hanging over a kitchen window? Traditionally that’s how they are kept, after running a needle through the stems.

A pepper by any other name would not taste as sweet.A plate of sautéed Jimmy Nardello peppers at the Roadhouse.

When it comes to eating them, don’t be fooled by their fiery red appearance.  Nardellos do not contain capsaicin, the alkali substance that make other chilis hot. With their rich, sweet, fruity flavor, they don’t need to be fussed with in the kitchen. The pepper’s reputation has spread as a highly esteemed frying pepper. Just toss it into a pan with a little Fleur de Sel sea salt and Tellicherry black pepper, toss it around until the skin crisply bubbles and the candy sweet juice releases its aroma. Oh yeah…..

There are many more uses for them if pan-frying isn’t your thing. Nardellos can be grilled, roasted, stewed, pickled, canned, and used in any dish that calls for a sweet, yet firm pepper. I’m a huge fan of slathering them with goat cheese or snacking on them right out of the garden. Ari swears that they should be enjoyed on their own, with just a drizzle of new harvest olive oil. Their flavor is just that good, they don’t need anything extra really. In fact, they are so good, this variety has been placed in “The Ark of Taste” by the Slow Food organization.

Before he passed away in 1983, Jimmy Nardello donated the seeds of his favorite pepper to the Seed Savers Exchange, and now anyone can grow them! It’s really the perfect example of a legacy that stems from an heirloom seed, and every time I eat one all I can think about is all the history I am tasting. What a love of a pepper! Come on in and try them at the Roadhouse!

Check them out on our dinner specials menu!