Pasta con nduja

FrankCalabria, pasta, primi piatti42 Comments

Pasta con nduja

It’s funny how some recipes or ingredients that have been around forever suddenly become trendy and therefore “new”. So it’s been lately with nduja, that deliciously spicy spreadable pork sausage from Calabria. Dating from the 1200s, a few years back it suddenly started popping up everywhere on the internet and restaurant menus. Now don’t get me wrong. Nduja is delightful and deserves all the love it’s been getting. But to read some of the more breathless pieces out there, you’d think the stuff had just been invented! It reminds me of the Italian expression “Hai scoperto l’America!“—meaning “You’ve discovered America!”—used sarcastically when someone expresses a super obvious or well known idea as if it were some fabulous revelation.

My own introduction to nduja came back in the 1990s, when we were living in Rome. One of our neighbors was calabrese, and he’d be sure to bring some back after a visit home. At the time, nduja was still very much a local Calabrian thing, so that even in Rome it was a novelty. We had it as an antipasto, spread over slices of crusty bread, and it was perfectly delicious.

I like nduja even better cooked as a sauce for pasta. The heat of the pan intensifies its taste, really bringing out its spiciness. In this recipe for pasta con nduja, the nduja melts into a light tomato sauce, infusing it with its spicy goodness. It’s super simple to make. If you can make a basic tomato sauce, then you can make this dish. It pairs especially well with fileja, a typical Calabrian pasta—more about that in the Notes below—but this versatile sauce lends itself to just about any pasta shape you can think of.

Ingredients

  • 400 g (14 oz) fileja (or other pasta of your choice, see Notes below)

For the sauce:

  • 1 small red onion, peeled and chopped
  • 200 g (7 oz) nduja, broken into chunks
  • 400 g (14 oz) small cherry tomatoes, cut in half, or passata or canned peeled tomatoes
  • A few basil leaves, torn into pieces by hand if large
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

To finish the dish (optional):

  • Freshly grated caciocavallo (or pecorino romano)

Directions

Gently sauté the chopped onion in olive oil until soft and translucent.

Add the nduja and let it melt. Then add the tomatoes along with the basil and a good pinch of salt. Let simmer gently for 15 minutes or so, until the tomatoes have melted into a sauce, stirring from time to time.

While the sauce is simmering, bring well-salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente.

Drain the pasta (but not too well) and add it to the sauce. Mix well, still over very gentle heat.

Serve right away, with cheese for those who want it.

Pasta con nduja
Notes

For the benefit of those who may have been living under a rock for the past few years, ndjuja is a spicy, spreadable pork sausage produced in Calabria and, more spcifically, the town of Spilinga. It’s said that the Angevins, a French dynasty who ruled southern Italy at the time, introduced it in the 13th century. The name is probably a corruption of the French word andouille. (Also a delicious but very different soft textured sausage.) Nduja is made using meat from the head and trimmings from various other parts of the pigs, skin and fat, and lots of roasted Calabrian chili peppers, which give nduja its characteristic fiery taste so typical of the region and act as a preservative. These ingredients are all minced together, then stuffed in large casings and smoked, creating a soft large sausage that looks like this:

With its current popularity nduja is not too hard to find nduja in the US. Or at least a simulacrum of it, since as far as I know, you can’t buy nduja from Calabria here. And I’ve only found one domestic source, Tempesta brand—recommended by Rosetta Costentino (my muse for all things Calabrian, by the way) as well as Serious Eats—that comes close to the real thing. I’ve never seen Tempesta brand nduja in stores where I live, but it is available online. It seems that demand exceeds supply since it’s often out of stock. Get it when and if you can! European readers, I’m guessing, can probably source it from Italy, lucky dogs. And for Spaniards, nduja is said to be similar to sobrassada, so that might make a good substitute.

If you want a truly authentic Calabrian experience, search out fileja, a regional pasta made by twirling strips of dough around a metal rod. This video from the Pasta Grannies YouTube channel shows you how you make it. Fileja belongs to a family of mostly southern Italian pastas using a similar twirling technique often referred to as maccheroni col ferro, loosely meaning pasta made with a metal rod. They include strozzapreti, fusilli pugliesi and Sicilian busiate. So if you can’t find fileja near you—and for once you won’t find it on Amazon—feel free to substitute any pasta in that family. And if you can’t find any of those, among easy to find pasta shapes perhaps penne comes closest, but, truth be told, this versatile sauce pairs well with just about any pasta shape you fancy. I’d avoid delicate egg pastas, however.

The onion should be red if possible. Like the Tuscans, Calabrians prefer red onions to the yellow or white ones, and in particular their prized cipolle di Tropea. But of course, in a pinch yellow onions will do.

Variations

The recipe has a mind boggling number of variations. To start with, how much nduja you want to add is really up to you. Recipe range from calling for a whole lot—almost 1:1 ratio of nduja to pasta by weight—to just a spoonful or two, just enough to scent the tomato sauce. So just go by your own taste for spicy foods. (And your pocket book, since nduja doesn’t come cheap.) Personally, I like a generous amount of nduja, as given here a 1:2 ratio, which I find really brings out it unique flavor but remains balanced.

Recipes are also all over the map when it comes to when to add the nduja. Personally I prefer to add the nduja right after the onion. That brief sauté renders its fat and intensifies its flavor so it infuses beautifully into the sauce. But some recipes warn you off this, saying it risks burning the nduja. They recommend adding it to the almost cooked tomato sauce and letting everything simmer together for another 5 minutes or so, enough time for the nduja to melt completely and the flavors to meld. And in that Pasta Grannies video, the nonna split the difference, sautéing the nduja separately to intensify its taste, then adding it to simmer along with the sauce. And in yet another recipe I’ve seen, some of the nduja is adding during cooking, while a bit is held back for adding at the very end, just before the pasta.

Recipes also vary on what kind and how much tomato to use. In some recipes, you are basically making a standard tomato sauce to which you add a bit of nduja for flavor. At the other end of the spectrum, you can add just a few cherry tomatoes to wilt into sautéed nduja. And there’s all degrees of variations in between. In the summer, fresh tomatoes are de rigueur. In the other months, hydroponic cherry tomatoes, passata or canned tomatoes do the job. Some recipes combine fresh cherry tomatoes with passata or canned. So again, follow your bliss.

Pasta con nduja

Pasta with spicy Calabrian sausage

Ingredients

  • 400g 14 oz fileja or other pasta of your choice

For the sauce:

  • 1 small red onion peeled and choped
  • 200g 7 oz nduja broken into chunks
  • 400g 14 oz small cherry tomatoes cut in half, or passata or canned peeled tomatoes
  • A few basil leaves torn into pieces by hand if large
  • Olive oil
  • salt

To finish the dish:

  • freshly grated caciocavallo or pecorino romano

Instructions

  • Gently sauté the chopped onion in olive oil until soft and translucent. 
  • Add the nduja and let it melt. Then add the tomatoes along with the basil and a good pinch of salt. Let simmer gently for 15 minutes or so, until the tomatoes have melted into a sauce, stirring from time to time. 
  • While the sauce is simmering, bring well-salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente
  • Drain the pasta (but not too well) and add it to the sauce. Mix well, still over very gentle heat. 
  • Serve right away, with cheese for those who want it. 

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42 Comments on “Pasta con nduja”

  1. As always, one can count on Frank and Angelina for the most authentic Italian recipes.
    My wife lived in the Veneto for 15 years. She was at that time married to an Italian holder of the Cordon Bleu certificate. After I came into her life I’ve tried to learn from her, as I live to cook. It is my pleasure to tell her I’m making an Angelina recipe and get an instant, YES, PLEASE!!!
    So much we see that passes for Italian food has way too many ingredients, Angelina recipes are what one find in an Italian kitchen on an everyday basis.
    Thank you Frank!!
    I also like Tempesta Nduja because it is spreadable on bread as well as good to cook with.
    Looking forward to many more culinary adventures in this site.

    1. And thank you, Randy. It warmed my heart to read your comment. I’m delighted you’re enjoying and using the blog to make dishes at home. And of course I couldn’t agree more about the distorted version of Italian food you all too often find around the internet and in restaurants… I’m trying to fight back in my own small way. Tempesta really is the best. I just ordered some online, arriving later today!

  2. I am 100% that back in the day, this dish would have been one of my favourites, sadly, now-a-days I must avoid spicy dishes. I wonder if all of the flavourful hot peppers were used to mask the gamey flavour of offals?
    Hope you had a very Merry Christmas, Frank and that you will have a Happy and Healthy New Year. Cheers!

  3. I’ve loved your blog for a long time, Frank!

    This post made me laugh. The last time I was in Italy I was visiting some relatives in Calabria. We went to a local market to buy goodies, and I was talking to one of the vendors about this very issue. I told him that ndjuja and Calabrese peppers were trendy in the US at the moment, and he was completely shocked. He called over his friends to hear the story and they were all cracking up at the idea that high end restaurants in NYC were serving their local specialties.

  4. Mediterranean cuisine has always been an endless source of great food and “trends” in so many ways ! It always reminds us how lucky we are to have fertile lands and such an abundance of healthy food and drinks ! Thank you so much for this one and I wish you have a happy holidays !

  5. It is funny how certain foods become ‘trendy,’ – it makes you wonder how trends like this start. Is it a famous chef who uses it in a recipe? Is it a marketing thing? Either way, I do enjoy nduja, and I like seeing it used in this sauce recipe – it sounds easy and delicious! Also, I didn’t realize the connection between nduja and andouille…so interesting!!

    1. I’ve often wondered about that too, David. Sometimes there is a specific trigger. We just saw an example, when Stanley Tucci featured spaghetti alla nerano in his TV series, and suddenly it was all the rage. I even noticed it myself, when the post on nerano here on the blog went quasi-viral for a while, even though it was over almost four years old and I hadn’t done anything recently to promote it. Other times it’s less clear what triggers a fad. You remember when suddenly people were lining up around the block to buy cupcakes? Never figured out how that got started…

  6. I have to correct my comment. The Tutto Calabria has a hatred ‘nduja spread not the whole piece but it is from Calabria.

    1. Thanks for clarifying, Pamela. I was familiar with Tutto Calabria (had a jar of their chili peppers, which was excellent) but had never seen nduja there.

  7. Hi, Frank. Love your site. Thanks for giving us authentic recipes. Real Calabrian ‘nduja is available from Tutto Calabria online.

  8. Methinks nduja won us all over at about the same time but I have as yet to use it your way. Shall soonest ! Now that most cooks here have recognized both the product and its value we have it available even in most supermarkets . . . tho’ the quality may be better in continental delicatessens . . . well, this recipe will be on the table next week . . .

  9. Hi Frank, At Easter time my family made an omelet of veal stew meat and eggs. I have lost the recipe and hope you might know of it.
    Anne

    1. Hmm… sounds intriguing but it’s new to me. I’ve heard of (but never made) a frittata with peas and little veal meatballs rather than veal stew. And I also know of a lamb and peas stew that to which you mix in eggs at the last minute. Not quite an omelette, though, more of a thick sauce.

  10. Love ndjuja! One of those things I have in restaurants more than at home, although I can buy it locally (have to make a trip to a specialty market, though). I’ve had it in pasta sauce, but never made one myself. I will, though. This looks great — thanks.

      1. Well, for any number of reasons, this ended up being dinner last evening (Saturday) and not Monday. What an amazing dish! It has immediately become one of our favorites, and we can’t wait to make it again. Thanks especially for giving different possibilities for what to use for tomatoes. I had a combination of passata and a few grilled cherry tomatoes. It was perfect!

  11. That looks delicious – I have a similar home made sauce in the freezer right now – I particularly like it as a pizza topping, which is what the Calabrian restaurant next door to me does. I believe the name comes from the Angevins andouille sausage, which back then (and in France today) is a fragrant offal sausage (unlike the one from New Orleans which has evolved). The Kingdom of Aragon introduced peppers to Southern Italy and ‘nduja became similar to (and better than IMHO) sobrassada from the Balearic Islands.

    1. Fascinating! Thanks for reminding me about the etymology, which had slipped my mind and makes perfect sense to me, although I understand there are some who dispute it. (Not sure why.) I’m also a big fan of French andouille, by the way. Discovered it when I was living in Paris (many moon ago at this point) and absolutely adored it. Haven’t had it in ages, though..

          1. The look and texture is very similar, but the taste of ‘nduja is different and much better IMHO. Sobrassada is good but a small amount goes a long way for my taste buds. ‘nduja is generally hotter, but sobrassada comes in different heat strengths and is made with pimentón, whereas ‘nduja contains different chillis.

  12. Frank, I am sad that you can’t get real ‘nduja in the ‘States. Here in London I have a client from Calabria and his mum sends it up to him periodically and he’s kind enough to share.

    I have quite a few ‘nduja recipes but I think my favourite is the simplest of all:

    Soften some chopped onion in butter and add ‘nduja equal to the weight of pasta (or to taste), letting it melt before cooking it for a few minutes. Add a few ladles of water from the pasta cooking alongside and let that simmer while the pasta finishes. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce, raising the heat a bit while tossing for minute or two. Turn off the heat and toss with a squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped parsley. Heaven.

    You can also softly scramble eggs into ‘nduja that’s been melted in a little butter… also divine.

    All the best to you this holiday season.

  13. Frank, I love nduja in a pasta sauce as it gives it not only a spicy kick, but a unique taste. It’s also greatly sparingly crumbled on a pizza with rapini and mozzarella, yum. We’re fortunate as we get the real deal Calabrian nduja, but it’s the supper spicy variety.

    1. Lucky you! And I also love nduja on pizza. A local pizzeria here makes a Calabrian style pizza with nduja and Calabrian chili peppers that’s out of this world.

  14. Hi Frank, thanks for the product’s profile and the recipe. One domestic producer s La Quercia, based in Iowa: aquerciashop.com.

    1. Yes, indeed. Around here it’s the brand you’ll be likely to find in stores. Although in my opinion Tempesta beats it hands down.

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