Pasta with ‘Nduja Sauce

Nduja is one of the more interesting Italian specialty foods I’ve come across recently. Native to the southern Calabria region, the uniquely soft salami is spicy and packed with the fiery flavor of red peppers. It can be enjoyed spread thin over crackers or bread, used as the base for a stew or in a spicy pasta dish, brushed onto chicken, fish, or other meats, or layered as a topping for pizza.

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Nduja is made from the throat meat and fat of pigs.  The meat is chopped finely, then combined with salt and the ground hot pepper, which is also grown in Calabria, to form a paste. The meat paste is then piped inside a natural hog casing of the intestine and secured with hand-knotted hemp string before being hung in a curing chamber. It is smoked for about a week and then dried for three weeks or longer. The texture could be described as being similar to pâté, although slightly coarser, spicier and smokier.

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‘Nduja spread on crackers

The sausage paste has only recently become known outside of southern Italy. In England, you can find it at Waitrose as well as other specialty shops. When cooking, a little goes a long way, and just one tablespoon of the paste can sufficiently spice up a tomato sauce for pasta. 

 

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Pasta with ‘Nduja Sauce

Ingredients:

1/3 Cup Finely Chopped Onions
4 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, Peeled & Minced
Approximately 3 Tablespoons Nduja Removed From The Casing
1 (14 Ounce) Can Pomodorini Tomatoes (See Note Above For Alternatives)
Salt & Pepper
1/2 Cup Cooked Chickpeas
1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Parsley

250 Grams Penne Pasta

Directions:

In a small saucepan heat the olive oil and cook the onion until it is translucent.
Add the garlic and nduja and stir until the nduja melts into the oil.
Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, chickpeas, and parsley and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes.
Cook your pasta until “al dente” and drain.
Return the pasta to the pot, add the nduja sauce and cook for a minute of two over high heat stirring constantly.
Serve hot. Can add Parmesan cheese or Ricotta cheese.

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Vitello Tonnato (Veal with Tuna Sauce)

 

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Vitello Tonnato, or Veal with Tuna Sauce, is a typical dish from the northern Piedmont region of Italy, from where the Italian hails. In Italy it is usually served as an antipasto but can also make a good main course, and it is considered beautiful, elaborate and appropriate for a high-end dinner. It is a very summery dish as the thinly sliced meat is served cold, and it is also the traditional centerpiece of the Ferragosto dinner in Milan (Assumption Day, August 15). However, it can also work in the winter months, and many Piedmontese families serve it as part of Christmas dinner.

I’ve personally eaten the dish several times prior to attempting to cook it: once made by the Italian’s mamma in her classic Torinese apartment; once at a authentically rustic agriturismo (essentially a restaurant that uses local and farm-grown products); and once at a beautiful wedding of a friend in the sprawling hills of Turin.

It’s an unusual combination – veal and tuna – but somehow it just works and produces this incredibly tasty dish. The creative combination makes it seem as though it would be a more modern, inventive dish, but actually it is quite classic and traditional. A recipe for Vitello Tonnato can be found in Pellegrino Artusi’s well-loved “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well”, first published in Florence in 1891.

The Italian and I have been talking about trying our hand at cooking the dish for more than a year now, and we finally decided to give it a go one warm and summery day in London. The end result was very good, although we did struggle to cut the meat slices as thinly as they would at a restaurant. Given our rather rudimentary selection of cookery and slicing tools, I think we did a pretty decent job!

*Note, the recipe can also be made with beef instead of veal, although if going this route it is best to choose a cut of beef that is less strong in taste (typically from younger cows or manzo as they say in Italian).

Ingredients:

  • 3 Hard boiled eggs
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Celery stick
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • Balsamic vinegar, to taste
  • Anchovies (6 fillets)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3/4 cup white wine (3/4 cup)
  • 1 tsp Rosemary
  • Water
  • 1/2 kilo Veal
  • 15 Capers
  • 1 can Tuna
  • 1 tsp Cloves
  • 2 Tbsp Olive oil

Directions:

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Place the veal in the pot along with the carrot, celery, onion (cut in half or quartered), rosemary, cloves, and a pinch of salt. Pour white wine over the contents of the pot and simmer for a few minutes to slightly brown the meat.

Add 8 cups of water to the pot or until the meat is completely covered in the water. Let the meat cook over low heat for an hour and a half or two hours. When the veal is cooked, turn off the heat and let the broth cool.

For the tuna sauce, place in a large bowl the canned tuna, chopped boiled eggs, anchovies, capers. Puree in a blender, adding a bit of olive oil and broth from the veal in order to make a soft, creamy sauce. Can also add lemon juice to the cause (to taste). Be careful to not add too much broth or the sauce will become too liquid and runny.

Cut the cooked veal into thin slices, as thin as possible. Place the veal slices onto a serving plate. Spread balsamic vinegar (to taste) on top of each veal slice. Then top that with the creamy tuna sauce. Garnish with capers, black olives, shaved parmigiano reggiano and a sprinkle of parsley.

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Fondue Bourguignonne

Fondue Bourguignonne is a new dish for me, and something that the Italian has been talking about for the nearly three years we’ve been together. When he first mentioned it, I had envisioned Beef Bourguignon, the stew prepared with beef braised in red wine. This recipe was familiar to my American ears due to the American public’s general fixation with Julia Child and her famous recipe book that includes such French classics as Beef Bourguignon. Alas, this is not the bourguignon that the Italian had in mind, as I discovered during our most recent dinner party.

Indeed, the dish was not a stew but in fact made in a large metal pot and served fondue-style. It is a great dish to have at a party as it is family-style with the guests skewering and cooking their own meat. There were eight of us sharing the same fondue pot, a nice, heavy metal contraption the Italian and I had recently bought on Amazon. It heated the oil perfectly and will probably be used for future fondue endeavors of the cheese and chocolate variety.

The meats in the Fondue Bourguignonne process are served with an array of different sauces, of which choices are limitless. We had a number of sauces, both homemade and bought, that included: Dijon mustard, ketchup, English chutney, gherkins, mayonnaise, tartar sauce, Chinese chilli sauce, homemade curry sauce, homemade green sauce, and homemade blue cheese sauce. They were all delicious and went excellently with our meats, which included a choice of beef, chicken and pork, although meatballs or just about any other kind of meat would also work.

The most difficult part of the whole thing was getting the meat on the skewer when its raw. The second most difficult part was deciding which sauce to eat at that particular moment. The easiest part was eating it. They were all delicious!

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A line of sauces for our meat

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The homemade sauces

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Skewers ready to go

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Meat ready to be skewered

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Cooking the meat

Fondue Bourguignonne 

Ingredients:

Four cups vegetable oil or other good quality oil (such as sunflower)

8 ounces beef tenderloin, cut into small cubes or strips

8 ounces chicken breast, boneless and skinless, cut into small cubes or strips.

8 ounces of pork (any meat of choice), cut into small cubes or strips.

Directions:

Heat oil in a fondue pot until very hot. While oil is heating cut the meat into cubes and arrange on plates, raw.

Place sauces in separate bowls on table.

To eat, spear the meat with a skewer and place in pot, cooking a few minutes or until crispy.

Remove from skewer and eat with a fork. Dip in sauces, and enjoy!

Salsa Verde (Green Sauce)

Salsa Verde, also known as Bagnet Vert, is a traditional sauce from Piedmont, the region from where the Italian hails. It is simple but flavourful and is typically served with meats. In addition to the Fondue Bourguignonne, people from Piedmont serve it with another typical dish about which I’ve written, the “Bollito”, or boiled meats.

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Salsa Verde

Ingredients:

Parsley – 120 grams

Cappers – 1 T

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 100 grams

Anchovies – 3 fillets

Two hard-boiled egg yolks

Pepper – to taste

Garlic – two cloves

Red Wine Vinegar – 50 grams

Old, stale crustless bread bread – cubed, 80 grams

Directions:

Cut the crust off the old bread and cube it. Soak the cubes in vinegar.

Cut the stems off the parsley.

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Curry Sauce

Ingredients:

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons (or more) curry powder optional

1/2 chopped onion

Directions:

Cook the onions in a pot in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Let the onions chill. Mix all ingredients together. Add more seasoning if desired.

Blue Cheese Sauce

Ingredients:

5 oz (150 g) crumbled blue cheese

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 crushed garlic clove

chopped parsley

8 oz milk

salt and pepper

Directions:

Melt ingredients in saucepan over medium heat until combined. Serve.

Upper Peninsula Beef Pasties

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Upper Peninsula Beef Pasties (also known as Cornish Beef Pasties) are another traditional meal from my mom’s Scandinavian side of the family. My mother’s parents were from Norway and Finland, and their families migrated in the late 1800s to the Upper Peninsula Michigan, where numerous other Scandinavian families had immigrated.

I grew up thinking that pasties were a Finnish food because it was so strongly associated with Finnish culture in UP Michigan. However, the meat pocket meal was originally brought to the US by Cornish miners who immigrated in the early 1800’s hoping to earn a living in newly developing mines. A small group of Finnish immigrants followed the Cornish miners in 1864, and these Finns, in addition to other ethnic groups, adopted the pasty for use in the Copper Country copper mines. The shape and heavy ingredients of meat and potatoes made the pasty both portable and hearty. In the mines it was easy to warm up by putting the pasty on a shovel and holding it over a head-lamp candle. In the workplace, pasties were eaten end to end without a fork.

The pasty became a popular food among both Finns and Swedes in the UP and the tradition survived the crash of the mining industry. In the late 1800s, when my great-grandparents came to the area, this new wave of immigrants were probably introduced to the food by their older Scandinavian kin rather than the Cornish workers, hence the identification of the pasty as a Scandinavian specialty. In fact, the various ethnic groups modified the original Cornish recipe throughout the years, and indeed the Upper Peninsula pasty differs from the Cornish pasty in that the vegetables are usually diced rather than sliced, there are more vegetables, and the crust is thinner.

My family makes pasties for special occasions and serves them with ketchup. My mom has talked about how her mother, my Finnish grandmother, would make pretty designs when folding the crust, although my mom and her sisters tend to just fold the crust closed without as much care over the appearance. I figure the early pasty-eating miners wouldn’t care too much about appearances and would be more concerned about the crust keeping the juices in!

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Upper Peninsula Beef Pasties:

Ingredients:

Crust:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup shortening

7-8 T cold water

Stuffing:

4 medium potatoes

1.5 pound ground beef

1 cup celery, diced

1 cup carrots, diced

1 medium rutabaga, peeled and diced (optional)

3/4 cup diced onions

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

Directions:

In large mixing bowl, stir flour and 1 1/2 tsp salt. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Gradually add the 7 to 8 T of cold water to the dry ingredients and toss the mixture with a fork until it holds together. Form into a ball. Cover and chill the dough for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, peel and coarsely chop the potatoes. In a bowl combine the ground beef, chopped potatoes, diced celery, carrots, turnips, onion, 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Set aside.

Divide the dough into six equal portions. One a lightly floured surface roll each portion of the dough to a 9-inch circle. Place about 1 cup of the meat-vegetable filling on one half of each circle. Put 3 dots of butter on the filling before closing the crust.

Fold the pasty crust over the filling to make a half circle. Wet the bottom half to make the top half stick. Fold the edges upward to create a seal. Cut slits in the pasty to allow steam to escape. Place pasties on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake pasties at 400F (204C) for about 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with ketchup and mustard. Makes 6 pasties.

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Roll out the pasty dough

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Chop the potatoes

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Mix the ground beef and veggies

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Stuff with the meat-veggie filling

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Fold the pasties and place on baking tray

Finnish Oven Kropsua (Oven Pancakes)

Every Christmas morning since I can remember my mom has taken advantage of her Scandinavian heritage to make us a special Finnish Christmas breakfast dish called Oven Kropsua. Also known as Pannukakku, it is an eggy relative of the pancake that has been baked in the oven and is served with syrup and fresh berries. It’s become as much a favorite food as it is a longstanding tradition, and I look forward to it every year.

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Finnish Oven Kropsua

Ingredients:

1/4 cup butter

2 eggs

2 cups milk

1 cup sifted flour

1/2 t salt

3 T sugar

Instructions:

Put butter in 10″ x 6″ x 1.5″ baking dish. Place in oven at 450F (230C) until melted.

Beat eggs in mixing bowl. Add milk and flour alternately, mixing well.

Stir in salt and sugar. Pour mixture into pan and stir well.

Bake at 450F (230C) for 15 minutes and then reduce temperature to 350F (175C) and bake for an additional 15-25 minutes, or until brown.

Cut into squares and serve with syrup and fresh berries.

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Bagna Cauda con Verdure (Bagna Cauda with Vegetables)

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Bagna Cauda is a warm dish typical of the Piedmont region where the Italian is from. Traditionally eaten on 1 November, or All Saints’ Day, the dish is strong, savoury, and – served with a wide array of autumnal vegetables – reminiscent of the fall harvest. The “Wet Bath” mixture of anchovies, olive oil, butter and loads of garlic is served and consumed in a manner similar to fondue, originally out of a big pot placed at the centre of the table in which guests would dip their vegetables.

Today it is usually served in individual terra cotta pots with a small flame underneath. The mixture is eaten by dipping raw, boiled, or roasted vegetables, including: carrots, beets, fennel, onions, asparagus, celery, potatoes, cabbage, and peppers.  At the end, when only a little sauce is left in the bagna cauda pot, it’s usual to break an egg into the pot for each person, and let it cook very slowly.

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This is the third year that the Italian and I have made bagna cauda together. It’s a great social food for when the weather starts turning colder and heavier dishes begin to make an appearance. We had a good group over for the feast, and it was a hit! I followed up the main attraction with some appropriately fall-themed pumpkin cupcakes (see recipe: Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting).

Bagna Cauda with Vegetables

Recipe for 4 people

Ingredients:

1 or 2 garlic bulbs (depending on how strong you want the garlic flavor)

Milk – 1/2 cup

Anchovies in oil – 250 grams

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 400 mL or 1 3/4 cup

Single cream – 1 cup

Directions:

Cut the garlic in half along the long side. Remove the “soul” of the garlic – the strong part of the garlic in its centre. (In Italian this is called the anima or “soul” of the garlic.

Chop the garlic very finely.

Cook garlic in a small pot and add just enough milk to cover the garlic. Cook on low flame until the garlic is soft enough to smash with a fork.

Mash the garlic and milk mixture with a fork while cooking to make a puree.

In a separate pot over a low flame, heat 1 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and add the anchovies. Take care to not let the mixture reach a boil. Stir the mixture until the anchovies flake.

Add garlic/milk puree when the anchovies have disintegrated. Cook for approximately one hour, stirring frequently.

Just before serving, add one cup of single cream and mix.  Add extra cream to taste to dilute saltiness, if desired.

Serve in terra cotta pots with flame underneath to keep the Bagna Cauda warm and liquid.

Prepare vegetables and arrange  on large serving platter and/or basket placed at the centre of the table.

Dip vegetables into Bagna Cauda and enjoy!

Suggested Vegetables:

Carrots (raw)

Beets

Fennel (raw)

Onions (baked in oven whole with skin, then peeled)

Asparagus (boiled)

Celery (raw)

Potatoes (boiled)

Cabbage (raw)

Peppers (raw and roasted)

Radicchio (raw)

Directions with Pictures: 

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Garlic bulbs

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Cut the garlic in half along the long side. Remove the “soul” of the garlic – the strong part of the garlic in its centre. (In Italian this is called the anima or “soul” of the garlic.

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Chop the garlic very finely.

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Cook garlic in a small pot and add just enough milk to cover the garlic. Cook on low flame until the garlic is soft enough to smash with a fork.

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In a separate pot over a low flame, heat 1 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and add the anchovies. Take care to not let the mixture reach a boil. Stir the mixture until the anchovies flake.

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Add garlic/milk puree when the anchovies have disintegrated. Cook for approximately one hour, stirring frequently.