Nduja may be the most delicious and versatile specialty ingredient I’ve ever brought into my kitchen. It’s savory, spicy, and smoky, and a small dollop of it can turn an ordinary dish into something unforgettable. Every time I think about dinner, I ask myself: Should I put nduja in it? That’s how much I love the stuff. (Case in point: I was told to submit one recipe for this article, but I submitted two.)
Pronounced en-DOO-ya, nduja is a spreadable salami from Calabria in southern Italy. It’s traditionally made from pork scraps, herbs, spices, and Calabrian chili peppers, which give nduja its fiery kick and ruddy hue. The mixture is ground into a fine paste and stuffed into a casing, and then smoked, cured, or both. According to the online grocery shop Zingerman’s, which sells nduja, most salami is about 75 to 80 percent lean pork and 20 to 25 percent fat. With nduja, that proportion is flipped. That extra fat is why nduja is so soft and spreadable at room temperature, and why the options for cooking with it are so endless. My husband calls it “spicy meat jam.”
Italian nduja can’t be imported to the U.S. unless it’s pasteurized, which means you’ll find imported nduja packed in jars, not casings. Artisan producers in the states have their own versions, each with a distinct blend of pork and chilies. An Italian market near me sells nduja from Iowa-based La Quercia; instead of salami, it’s made from finely ground prosciutto and speck (it’s delicious, with a soft, thrumming heat). A little nduja goes a long way, and it lasts for months in the fridge if it’s tightly wrapped, though I’ve never had any that long to find out. Look for nduja at Whole Foods, specialty shops, or order it online from various retailers.
I’ve pulled nduja ideas from cookbooks, restaurants, and food sites, as well as dreamed up my own creations, as I’ve looked for ways to deploy this secret weapon at dinnertime. Here are six of my favorite ways to use it, including two new recipes at the end that highlight its superpowers.
- Sneak nduja into your favorite marinara sauce to amp up its smokiness and complexity. Try: Smoky Pasta alla Vodka.
- Build a sauce from nothing more than nduja and pasta water. One of my favorite, quick meals is a play on Pasta alla Gricia where I use nduja in place of the customary guanciale and add a big handful of arugula at the end (pea shoots would be lovely this time of year, as well).
- Take a page from chef’s Andrew Carmellini’s book and replace pancetta with nduja in a rich, spicy take on Spaghetti Carbonara.
- Use it as a pizza topping. Scatter nduja on top of the sauce, or mix it into a sauce made from scratch.
- Make a next-level grilled cheese by dotting nduja over the cheese.
- Smear it on grilled or toasted bread. Or make an addictive, feisty BLT.
- Make nduja croutons (or crumbs): melt nduja with olive oil in a skillet, toss in the bread, and slowly and gently toast over low heat until crispy (about 15 to 20 minutes for croutons, less time for crumbs) so the nduja doesn’t burn. Your patience will be duly rewarded.
- Fry or scramble eggs in it: heat butter or olive oil in a skillet, melt a spoonful of nduja into the fat, then proceed as usual. One of my favorite quick meals is a nduja fried egg sandwich on toasted bread with peppery greens.
- Tuck nduja, herbs, and melty cheese into an omelet.
- Punch up Eggs in Purgatory or your favorite shakshuka by slipping nduja into the tomato sauce.
MEAT & SEAFOOD
- Make nduja roast chicken: Season the bird with salt and pepper about an hour in advance so they’ll come to room temperature. Stuff large dollops of nduja under the skin, and tuck potatoes or carrots around the bid in the roasting pan. Roast at high heat, and during the last five minutes of roasting time, slather the bird with nduja butter (more on this in a bit!) for even more flavor.
- Pair nduja with sweet crab meat: Mix in a spoonful when making crab cakes, add it to all kinds of crab pastas, or enliven she-crab soup.
- Add a little nduja to your favorite creamy dressings or vinaigrettes (I love nduja with sweet balsamic). Start with room temperature nduja, and blend if needed to emulsify.
- Make hot nduja vinaigrette (bacon shouldn’t have all the fun): in a skillet, melt together olive oil and nduja, and then add lemon juice or vinegar to brighten it up. Like in this dish:
- Sauté quick-cooking vegetables in nduja and olive oil, or nduja and butter.
- Melt nduja butter over vegetables in their final minutes of cooking, or off heat. To make nduja butter, smash together roughly equal parts of salted butter and nduja (both at room temperature) with a fork. -
- Think nduja-buttery carrots, potatoes, asparagus, peas, and artichokes in the spring; eggplant, zucchini, green beans, and sweet peppers in the summer; Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and winter squash in the fall and winter.
- Roast vegetables in nduja brown butter: make brown butter, take it off the heat, whisk in nduja until it melts, toss vegetables in it, season with salt and pepper, roast! Here’s a recipe to guide you:
The dish above inspired by a sublime thrice-baked sweet potato I recently had at Rolf and Daughters in Nashville. A whole sweet potato is baked, grilled, then baked again, and seasoned with nduja butter, chives, and a jolt of lime juice. I went a simpler but no less delicious route by tossing small cubes of sweet potatoes in nduja brown butter and roasting until tender.
- 1 large fennel bulb (or 2 small), about 1 to 1 1/4 pounds in total, fronds reserved
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided, plus more to taste
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon nduja
- 1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans, from dried or from a 16-ounce can (drained and rinsed)
- 8 ounces burrata, at cool room temperature
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons nduja
- 3 large sweet potatoes (about 1 3/4 to 2 pounds), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- Handful of finely chopped chives
How do you like to use nduja? Let us know in the comments!