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'Nduja pasta recipe

by Alex Mugan on July 31, 2021
There are more recipes online for the perfect midweek ‘nduja pasta than there are midweek days in a month to cook them all. When faced with this kind of recipe noise, Bray Cured does the reading so you don’t have to. Without further ado, here’s the one-stop ‘nduja pasta recipe, put together from the top ranked ‘nduja pasta dishes the web has to offer.

For this recipe, we’ve looked at: BBC Good Food, Serious Eats, Delicious.com, Nigel Slater in the Guardian, MOB Kitchen, CooklyBookly, the Telegraph (behind a paywall, so we didn’t bother reading the whole thing), BBC Food (presumably slightly worse than BBC Good Food?), The Pasta Project, Italian Food Forever, Gousto and LucasItaly.com. We picked these because they are the cream which has risen to the top of Google.

Before we begin, just a quick note. We’ll cut to the chase here and get on with the recipe, but if you want more info on ‘nduja itself, there are links to our collection pages below, where you can find out everything you need to know about the history of ‘nduja, how and where it’s made, and other gastronomic info nibbles.

Bring on the food.

Nduja pasta recipes are pretty similar really, so as well as combining them into our best of the best, we’ll also highlight where they do differ, so you can quickly make up your own mind. After all, why limit yourself to following our recipe. You can freestyle with the best of them.

Pick a pasta


More or less every type of pasta pops up in the ‘nduja pasta recipes we looked at. With so much variety going on, it’s fair to say that it doesn’t matter what you pick really. We’ve seen spaghetti, bucatini, penne, fileja (which you could sub for trofie or casarecce), linguine, pappardelle and ziti. More than once, the recipe writer says you can use any pasta you like. One swears by short pasta, another by long. Meanwhile, over in London’s Olympia, at Cibo (which is my absolute favourite Italian restaurant bar none), they serve ‘nduja with pacheri.

Conclusion? Use whatever is in the cupboard and you’ll be fine. If you’re making ‘nduja for a special occasion though, why not leave the spaghetti and penne on the shelf and go for fileja, pappardelle or pacheri. They all have good texture, they hold sauce well, and they make a strong visual impact.

Tomato, or not tomato? That is the question.


Most ‘nduja pasta recipes call for a tomato base. The sweetness of the tomato balances the spice of the ‘nduja, while both are savoury, and the fattiness of the sausage is cut by the acidity of the tomato. That’s why it works. Non-tomato recipes include carbonara twists, lighter lemon options and wintry vegetable numbers. At this fork in the road, we’ve gone tomato, as it does represent the way most ‘nduja pastas are done, and that’s for a good, tasty reason.

But which tomato? Opinions are split, with passata, tinned toms, fresh tomatoes and sundried tomato pesto all having their devotees. The tomato you pick will dictate the type of dish you get. If you want your ‘nduja pasta saucy and homogenous, go passata or tinned toms. If you want the ingredients to retain more of their individuality, consider fresh tomatoes, which will also give you a lighter dish, or pesto.

For this recipe, we’ve preferred the latter, with the caveat that if we can’t get really good fresh tomatoes, we’d switch to an alternative.

Herbs


Parsley, rosemary, thyme and basil all feature in the top recipes, sometimes in combination. Oregano, too, would not be amiss. Honestly, the ‘nduja will work with any of them, and they will all work with each other. For our omnirecipe, we’ve put a quantity of herbs, and left the choice to you. Pick what you’ve got, or are in the mood for.

Dairy


Three dairy options pop up among the recipes. First, butter. It appears, emulsified with the ‘nduja to create a sauce in certain recipes. ‘Nduja and butter together will create a sauce of such richness, that I’m not sure I’d put anything else with it. I’d just get some firm pasta, melt the butter with the sausage, pepper, done. But with the other ingredients in our recipe, we don’t think we need the butter, and whether for the calorie count, or catering for non-dairy diners, if we don’t have to have it, we’ll leave it out.

Second, pecorino or parmesan. Most recipes call for a grating of hard Italian cheese over the finished, or almost finished, dish. The jury is out on this for us, and the reason is clarity of flavour and texture. Parmesan or pecorino will add another savoury, aged flavour to our dish, which is already getting that type of profile from the ‘nduja. Adding the former may obscure the latter, so we suggest keeping the cheese on the side to taste. We’re all about the sausage after all.

Third, burrata, or perhaps even ricotta, or mascarpone. In just a couple of recipes, soft cheese is used to temper the spice of the ‘nduja and provide a textural tweak. While you might stir ricotta or mascarpone into a homogenised sauce to reduce the heat, adding a portion of burrata to the finished plate is perhaps a better fit for our somewhat disassembled ‘nduja pasta. It can be added at the end and kept largely separate from the other ingredients, while offering visual excitement and a safe haven from the spiciness of the ‘nduja where required.

Wine

Nobody is using wine in these ‘nduja pasta recipes. Curious that. Perhaps they feel the wine would not be prominent enough, or that reducing it would risk overcooking other ingredients. We’ve put the wine back in, on the proviso that we can reduce it separately.

‘Nduja

The key ingredient. Increasingly available in UK supermarkets, but also online and in specialist Italian food shops. You’ll also find ‘nduja being produced by British charcutiers, as we do at Bray Cured. Some of the recipes we looked at suggested that sobrasada or crumbled chorizo would make reasonable substitutes. We disagree. ‘Nduja is created with lots of Calabrian chilli. The flavour is so different to a paprika-based sausage as to be unrecognisable. Of course, sobrasada and chorizo pastas are great, and we have recipes which prove it, but we’d suggest that an ‘nduja pasta ought to taste like ‘nduja. Saying that, make sure your ‘nduja producer is actually using Calabrian chilli, as ‘nduja made with another type of chilli is also going to give you quite a different flavour.

The recipe


Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 onion (tropea would be nice, red will do fine, shallots or brown OK too)
  • 400g pasta of your choice (see pasta note)
  • 4 x large plum tomatoes, or 16 cherry tomatoes
  • 4 x garlic cloves (regular size, or the equivalent in massive garlic cloves)
  • 1 x tbsp tomato puree
  • 175ml red wine
  • 1 x tbsp chopped herbs (parsley, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano in whatever combo/solo)
  • 150g ‘nduja sausage
  • Splash of olive oil
  • Salt
  • Black pepper


Optional extras

  • 50g parmesan or pecorino, for sprinkling
  • 2 x balls of burrata, for topping
  • 1 x tbsp capers, for stirring through
  • 1 x tbsp ricotta, for cooling down the spice by stirring through at the end
  • Mix of zest of ½ lemon, 2 x tbsp breadcrumbs and 1 tsp chopped parsley, ‘the parmesan of the poor’ for something different or dairy free


Method

  1. Get the pasta on in a large pan of boiling salted water
  2. Fry the onion to translucency in a shallow pan with the olive oil. Season with salt as you go.
  3. Slice the plum tomatoes into wedges (or halve the cherries) and add them to the onion
  4. Add the wine and simmer off the alcohol. If you’re using rosemary or thyme, add them now so they can soften.
  5. When the sauce is on its way to dry (but you’ve still got liquid), crumble in the ‘Nduja. We want it to dissolve a bit in the wine and fry a bit too. Keep an eye on the pan now so the sausage doesn’t burn.
  6. Add the tomato puree and garlic, fry for another minute. Now is the time if you’re adding capers.
  7. The sauce should be fairly thick and dryish now. Time to add the pasta to the shallow pan. Slop in a couple of tbsp of pasta water as you do it, to create the finished sauce. Toss the pasta well to coat it with the sauce.
  8. Stir in the other herbs and add the black pepper. Check the seasoning.
  9. Serve it up with your choice of ricotta, burrata, parmesan (or pecorino), or the breadcrumb, lemon and parsley confection.
  10. Spend longer eating it and relaxing than you did cooking it.
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