Two of the tastiest ingredients in any traditional pantry are necessity and frugality. Some of the finest, most enduring foods in all the world's cuisines are born of just those two things: a need to use all of the beast (frugality), and the various methods of prerefrigeration preservation (necessity). Italy alone could keep foodies endlessly entertained with its regional cured meats. As culinary adventurers visit every corner of the planet, their discoveries become our next new delight.
A centuries old Calabrian speciality, 'nduja – pronounced en-doo-ya – made its quiet Canadian debut in 2014, but this spicy sausage-pâté hybrid is worth making a little noise about. It's hand-crafted in small batches by Chicago-based 'Nduja Artisans, the father-and-son team of Agostino (a Calabria native) and Tony Fiasche, who use only naturally raised Berkshire pork from small farms. Their family has been making salumi for five generations.
Traditionally this sausage is made from all the leftover bits gleaned from the head – once the cheeks have been taken for guanciale – then spiced with fresh hot peppers. The Fiasches use picnic shoulder, fat back and other "trim" blended with local and imported peppers, Mediterranean sea salt and a natural lactic-acid culture, which both preserves and creates a slight tang.
The result is mildly spicy, rich, soft and spreadable; it's like a kind of a piquant, meaty butter, and that's the way it behaves in the kitchen, too. It was like nothing chef Nicholas Wong – Chopped Canada's 2014 champion – had ever tasted before, and he loved it. A consulting chef to would-be restaurateurs, Wong is the first to bring this unique brand to Canada. "I love the taste, but I love even more how versatile it is."
In a pan it melts the way an anchovy does, adding a subtle backbone or umami to a simple pasta tossed with olive oil. We also tried it scrambled with free-run eggs, dotted on pizza, spread on crostini and stirred into a soup as seasoning, adding a lovely slow burn and a depth of addictive, silky richness. $14.99/227 g, from thehungryartisan.com.