I always associate Calabrese cooking with chilli and perhaps unfairly, but my impressions were probably shaped many, many years ago when I was teaching in a country town on the Murray River in South Australia.
As a teenager I had been a guest to Vincenzo’s wedding in Adelaide (an acquaintance of my father). Many years later I caught up with him, his wife and children who had moved to a farm in Pyap, a small community near Loxton, and close to where I was living and teaching at that time.
Like all Italians they were very hospitable and generous and I had many opportunities to sample their cuisine, but it seemed that everything I ate at their place seemed to contain chilli – fresh or preserved in a paste, or dried and then used as flakes or ground into a powder.
Similar to many Calabrese families (and other Italians mainly from southern Italy) they slaughtered a pig and made their smallgoods.
Chilli was part of all of the fresh sausages and the smallgoods made with the minced meat mixture (sopressata , cotechini, salame), but they also smeared a thick coating of powdered chili on the surface all of their smallgoods (those made with minced pork and the non minced ones, for example capocollo and prosciutto). I was told that food without chilli seemed flavourless, but more important was that a coating of chilli acts as a seal, a barrier, it repels lies and is therefore a powerful and natural preservative.
A few years ago I was not surprised when I first read about the amount of chilli in the Calabrian Nduja. I remember that I first encountered this spicy, spreadable sausage in the mountains in Calabria about 16 years before. I did not know then, that it was to become a taste-sensation in Australia many years later.
My brother and I had been to Sicily to visit an old aunt and then we went to Calabria to visit Vince – a worker friend of my father’s and an old soccer mate of my brother’s. Vince is short for Vincenzo and is a very common Calabrese name. Vince was the perfect host and drove us to visit many scenic beaches and mountainous areas in Calabria. We went to the Sila and drove through thickly wooded areas of oak, pine, beech, fir and chestnut trees where wild boars and porcini mushrooms thrive. In the mountains we visited monasteries and ancient chapels and ate in famous restaurants that featured the local produce (including a liqueur made by the monks from the wild mountain herbs). In these mountains we also visited a salumeria (produce store specializing in local produce and smallgoods) and that is where I first experienced ‘Nduja. I am sorry to say that I did not pay much attention to the ‘Nduja. because I was more excited by the local wild boar prosciutto and the dark and typical bread made with chestnut flour.
There is another interesting experience related to ‘Nduja. About six months ago I received an email from a person living in Malaysia who had found me through my blog. His daughter had toured through parts of Italy and loved ‘Nduja; she was getting married in Adelaide and he wanted to surprise her at her wedding by providing ‘Ndjua for the guests. He wondered if I knew where he could buy ‘Nduja in Adelaide and of course I knew – from Mercato, an Italian produce store in the suburb of Campbelltown. I hope that I made several people very happy.
Too many memories and not enough about ‘Nduja.
‘Nduja seems to be the most recent, Italian culinary discovery in Australia… and I hope that it will not be anything like the craze (in the 70’s and 80’s?) of restaurants including bocconcini or dried tomatoes in anything Italian.
‘Nduja is cured in the same way as salame, but because of the high fat content (it is made from the fatty parts of the pig), it maintains a soft texture, is like a coarsely ground pâté and it is spreadable at room temperature. The dark, red colour is due to the large quantities of chillies .
We had it spread on fresh bread; a generous smear is enough.
Having it simply spread on bread is a start and we enjoyed it immensely. As you can see we also accompanied it with a dry Martini – this is not a drink that I would imagine Calabresi would have with ‘Nduja, but now and again I enjoy breaking convention.
Next time you make sugo (pasta sauce/ ragout),add some ‘Nduja to it as the Calabresi often do.
Dressing for pasta – Sugo with ‘Nduja
INGREDIENTS AND PROCESSES
My sugo (sauce) is made with peeled tomatoes/ 1 bottle of passata, extra virgin olive oil, 1 onion, 3 pork sausages, 500g cubed pork and beef, 2 or more tablespoons of Njuda and oregano.
Sauté chopped onion in some extra virgin olive oil.
Add sausages (cut into large pieces), meat, Nduja and sauté these ingredients until light brown.
Add tomatoes and oregano, season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer the sauce until cooked.
Cook and dress a short-type pasta (for example: penne or rigatoni, shells, fusilli) with the sauce.
Serve the dressed pasta with grated pecorino cheese.
P.S. I should add that in Melbourne, I was able to buy ‘Nduja at Bill’s Farm in the Queen Victoria Market. I also tried to buy it at The Mediterranean, Italian Supermarket, but they were out of stock.
I realize that I must like chillis very much.
The photo of the plant of chillies above, is growing on my balcony.
In my fridge and pantry I found: Smoked sweet and hot paprika in tins, a jar of hot pepper paste and an empty jar of the sweet pepper paste (similar to Adjvar which I usually have in my fridge ), a jar of my homemade harissa that is a staple in my fridge , there are chilli flakes in a small yellow bowl that I place on the table (for certain dishes) together with salt and pepper grinders and a jar of Malaysian chilli jam.
I forgot to add (for the photo) the sweet and hot paprika that I use in my goulash and the whole dry chillies that I add to my jars of pickles and olives and I use for Indian cooking …and there may be even more chillies hiding in my cupboards!