The pig. Where would we be without this generous animal? The diverse flavors created by the, in my opinion, under-appreciated swine, are precious to life. I do not want to think about living in a world without prosciutto, mortadella, or guanciale, to name a few. So I won’t. Instead in this series of blogs, I will take the time to revere this creature who has added much to cuisine around the world. “Moi?” (alla Miss Piggy’s voice). Si, tu! Come, let’s get piggy with it.
‘Nduja – this word has it all
‘Nduja. “in-DOOJ-ah.” I love everything about this word. The spelling…’nduja. It starts with an apostrophe. Bad ass. It possesses a letter that spikes upward – d, and a letter that juts downwards, j. There are so many complexities to the spelling that defy logic. The letter J is not even in the Italian alphabet. What’s up with that? I once asked my local Italian butcher if he carried it, yes he is actually from Italy. He looked at me with a puzzled face, telling me that he had never heard of it AND reiterating to me that there is no J in the Italian alphabet so how could ‘nduja be Italian? Non lo so, ma lo é.
Love at first taste
I first encountered this delight when I was at the Rome Sustainable Food Project. In the kitchen, there is a refrigerator dedicated to salumi. Possessing this type of refrigerator is on my list of life goals. It contains all heavenly items and I routinely jumped at the chance to open it. On the menu one day was a crostini that showcased ‘nduja and fresh ricotta. Sweet. Baby. Jesus. It was truly Devine. ‘Nduja is truly Devine. From its color, to its consistency, and obviously its taste, ‘nduja is an extraordinary flavor trip. If your palate has not yet savored this treat, I implore you to change this immediately.
What exactly is ‘NDUJA?
‘Njuda is a soft, spreadable fermented pork salume, laced with spicy Calabrian chiles. It brings a heat that is not over the top, but is truly undeniable. It hails from southern Italy, Calabria, which makes sense as it uses Calabrian chiles. Brillant. Its robust color is welcoming and intimidating at the same time. It is a distinct red whose power is palpable by just making eye contact.
Where did it come from?
This spicy salume has been around for centuries. Who invented it? As with many Italian flavors, there is not one true origin of ‘ndjua. Its similarities to the French andouille and Spain’s sobrasada gives credence to their influence on this Italian development. What we do know is that Italians are professionals at avoiding food waste. They are resourceful and imaginative. Every part of the animal is utilized, if possible. ‘Nduja is such an example. After selling off the most prized cut of the pig, poor farmers would take what they had left including innards, fat, and leftover trimmings, grind it down and mix with seasoning as well as a hefty dose of local chiles. Let it ferment and ‘nduja was born.
How to best use it?
Where do I even begin? As stated, I first engaged with ‘nduja as a crostini. The schmear of Calabrian flavor against the fresh, newness of the ricotta was truly a culinary experience in which everyone should engage. However there are so many ways to indulge. This is a very sensitive salume which will melt quickly in a heated environment. It combines beautifully with sauces for pasta, on pizza, and as a finishing touch to grilled meats and fish. Mix it into your ravioli mixture or pasta dough to heighten the flavor and brighten the dish. In my blog on Zucchini blossoms, I stuff them with a mixture of ‘ndjua, garlic, and ricotta. A must try. Do beware…if heated at too high of a temperature, ‘nduja will smoke very quickly and with great fervor. Yes. I am speaking from experience.
Where can you get it?
As with anything…Amazon. Two great brands are Tempesta and La Quercia. If you are lucky enough to have a butcher near you that either makes their own, or imports it, please do share with us their information!
Go ahead––buy yourself some ‘nduja. Get piggy with it. Let us know what you decided to make with it and share your ‘ndjua recipes below.