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Crazy Good Spicy Italian Popcorn

4.5 stars based on 8 votes


This fun snack — homemade popcorn tossed with garlic butter, Parmesan, oregano and red pepper flakes — is adapted from Crazy Good Italian: Big Flavors, Small Plates by D.C. Chef and Top Chef All-Stars runner up Mike Isabella. It’s insanely addictive (yes, crazy good) and exemplifies Isabella’s self-described cooking style: one part old-world Italian, one part old-school Jersey, one part modern Mediterranean — all parts delicious. You have to try it!


Begin by popping the popcorn. Simply place the oil and popcorn kernels in large pot.


Cover tightly with a lid and heat over medium-high heat. Wait until the kernels start to pop, then shake the pan every now and again so they don’t burn. Once the popping slows to every 2-3 seconds, remove the pan from the heat.


Next, melt the butter in the microwave. Add the minced garlic and cook one minute more.


Strain the garlic butter through a fine meshed strainer into a small bowl and set aside.


Make the spicy cheese mixture by combining the cheese, oregano, salt and red pepper flakes in a mini food processor.


Process until the mixture resembles coarse sand.


Toss the popcorn with the butter and cheese mixture, then serve.


Note: I made several changes to the original recipe. Most notably, I reduced the red pepper flakes by more than half, and it is still spicy! (This might be a typo in the book.) I also reduced the oregano, and made the garlic butter in the microwave instead of on the stove.

Crazy Good Spicy Italian Popcorn

Servings: About 12 cups
Prep Time: 5 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Total Time: 15 Minutes


  • 2-1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a very large pan over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn, then cover with a tight fitting lid (alternatively, cover tightly with foil). Wait for the popcorn to start popping, then shake the pan gently every now and again to keep the kernels moving. When the popping slows to 2-3 seconds apart, remove the pan from the heat.
  2. Melt the butter in the microwave (be sure the bowl is big enough so that it won't bubble over). Add the garlic and microwave for 1 minute more. Pour the garlic butter through a fine meshed strainer into a small bowl; discard the garlic.
  3. In a mini food processor or spice grinder, grind the Parmigiano-Reggiano, red pepper flakes, oregano and salt until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
  4. Transfer the popcorn to a serving bowl. Pour the garlic butter over the popcorn and toss to coat. Sprinkle with the cheese mixture and toss again until the popcorn is evenly coated.

Reviews & Comments

  • 5 stars

    Delicious! A nice variation with a little extra effort, wonderful flavors, a big hit!

    - Rust on May 14, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    hello Jenn i have just found your website and am loving it!! i am spreading the word in england!
    kind regards

    - jo-ann hammond on April 27, 2017 Reply
    • Thank you, Jo-Ann!

      - Jenn on April 27, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    Will a regular food processor work? Or does it need to be mini? Thanks!

    - Rachael on February 2, 2016 Reply
    • Hi Rachael, A regular one should work — I just use a mini because it’s such a small amount.

      - Jenn on February 2, 2016 Reply
  • 4 stars

    This is a very nice recipe, because it’s pretty flexible.


    - Charlotte on December 13, 2015 Reply
  • 4 stars

    Quick, easy and delightful snack with just the right amount of heat. Substituted Pecorino Romano for a bit of a sharper taste. May try adding some cumin powder next time.

    - Marte on August 27, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made this for a party to serve with cocktails and WOW was it good. We love spicy so next time I might even add more red pepper flakes, but the recipe is really perfect as is. Thanks Jenn!

    - Lynne on July 26, 2015 Reply
  • 3 stars

    I also found this a little too salty. I used 1 tsp of fleur de sel, and ground everything up using my immersion blender. Instead of straining the butter, I prepared it in a measuring cup, and then let it sit while I did everything else. By the time I was done, all the garlic had settled, and it was easy to just pour out the butter.

    I might play around with the recipe a bit more (love the garlic butter/parmesan parts) but it’s really not my favourite popcorn seasoning.

    - Lindsey on July 25, 2015 Reply
    • Thanks for the feedback, Lindsey. I reduced the salt in the recipe.

      - Jenn on July 29, 2015 Reply
      • 5 stars

        I’m the Jenn below who was first to review. Just wanted to say that the adjusted salt level is much better now! And since my mini food processor isn’t very effective, I decided to use my granite mortar and pestle to grind the oregano, salt, and pepper flakes, before adding the cheese. I found that adding the butter in small amounts then tossing after each addition, and then doing the same for the cheese mixture, really helped distribute everything evenly. Thanks!

        - Jenn on November 24, 2015 Reply
  • 4 stars

    Saw this featured in the newsletter and decided to try it out. Really tasty, good savoury flavours, but a little on the salty side. I even used a bit less than a teaspoon of regular table salt… could be that I added a wee bit more grated parmesan, or maybe that I didn’t mix the mixture in properly. I also didn’t strain the garlic but it wasn’t too strong. It was a little more work than I wanted to do for an after-dinner snack (grating the parmesan, cutting up garlic, using my mini processor… cleaning all of it) but in any case my husband deemed it a delicious snack and I would make it again. Thanks!

    - Jenn on July 20, 2015 Reply

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