I saw a recipe for whole Italian sausages with white beans and an ‘nduja sauce recently, which inspired me to create a dish of fennel sausage meatballs with ‘nduja and tomatoes. I often have ‘nduja in the fridge and I’m surprised I haven’t thought of doing this before!
Napoli sausages are perfect for this, they are flavoured with fennel and black pepper, otherwise any good fennel and pork sausage will suffice. Failing that, use good pork sausages and add a little fennel pollen to the sauce.
‘Nuduja (pronounced ‘nduya) is an Calabrian pork salumi (cured sausage), made with pig’s head (but not cheeks – they are use for guanciale), shoulder and belly, plus salt, roasted red chilli peppers and spices. The mixture is squeezed into a pig’s intestine, which is tied up and smoked then left to cure for up to 2 years. This can be bought whole from good butchers and Italian delicatessen shops or in jars from some supermarkets. I think a deli will sell ‘nduja by the slice, but to be honest it keeps for months and tastes great in many sauces (and especially on a pizza), so a whole 450g salumi is a worthwile buy.
Fennel Sausage with ‘Nduja recipe (serves 3 or 4):
6 Italian fennel sausages
a thick slice of ‘nuduja salumi
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
6 ripe tomatoes (grated)
a handful basil leaves (torn)
a splash red wine vinegar
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
lashings extra virgin olive oil
Run a knife down the length of the sausages and remove the skins.
Shape the sausage meat into little balls.
Brown the sausage balls in plenty of extra virgin olive oil – it’s a good idea to do this in two batches. If you crowd the pan, meat tends to poach instead of brown. Reserve to a plate.
Fry the chopped garlic in the same pan, until it takes a little colour – be careful not to burn it.
Grate the tomatoes into a dish or straight into the frying pan – cut them in half and grate the wet side. Dispose of the skins.
Cook for 5 minutes or so, then add a splash of red wine vinegar plus sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste.
Break up a slice of ‘nduja into the sauce – this will dissolve. If you can’t get hold of ‘nduja some medium heat chopped smoked chill (like chipotle) would be a good substitute.
Tear up a handful of basil leaves and stir them in.
Return the sausage meatballs to the pan and cook on low for about 20 minutes, agitate occasionally.
Cook some casarecce pasta (or pasta of your choice) until al dente. Save a little of the cooking liquid and mix it with the pasta into the sauce, cooking gently for another minute or two. Casarecce means homemade and comes originally from Sicily. It is made with rolled out pieces of dough wrapped around a small metal rod called a ferro. The indentation left behind in the pasta, traps the sauce. The Italian word ferro, means iron, coming from the Latin ferrum, from which we can deduce that this was originally an iron rod, though probably made of stainless steel these days. I would imagine that one could make fresh pasta in this style with a thin wooden skewer or perhaps a meat trussing needle.
Serve the fennel sausage and ‘nduja pasta with a sprinkle of chopped basil and grated parmesan cheese. I recommend drinking a glass or two of Dragone Edizione Oro vino rosso from Calabria, made with a blend of Merlot and local Magliocco Canino grapes (which have been brought back from the verge of extinction).