The first time I had ‘nduja — the spreadable Italian sausage from Calabria — it was off the gloved thumb of Norbert Wabnig, the long-time owner of the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, a 50-year-old LA institution. “You have to try this,” he said from behind his cheese counter. I swiped the vermilion paste off his finger with a piece of baguette. It was spicy and slick and just a little bit funky. I had never had anything like it. “Is that... paté?” I asked. “No,” he said, his eyes twinkling behind his John Lennon glasses, “It’s ‘nn-DO-yah’ a new salumi we just got in from Italy.”
It was 2009 and I was doing some work at the Cheese Store, which stocks between 500 and 600 different varieties of cheese in addition to cured meats and wine. Though it’s located on a busy street in downtown Beverly Hills, the atmosphere is something like a clubhouse where those in the know can park in the back next to one of Wabnig’s ‘60s-era Porsches (he’s also a classic car collector) and pop in for a sip of wine and wedge of cheese. It’s just the type of place Colu Henry, an avid cook and fantastic host, might stop by to grab provisions for a casually elegant dinner party spread.
Henry is out with a new book this season: Back Pocket Pasta: Inspired Dinners to Cook on the Fly. It’s filled with stories from her many off-the-cuff parties, and offers recipes for every season. For spring, consider this one, which uses that spreadable salumi along with asparagus and sugar snap peas to great effect. I plan to make it when I’m back in LA and I know just where to get a generous fistful of fiery ’nduja.
Pasta with ’Nduja & Spring VegetablesI let the Hudson Farmers’ Market be my guide for this pasta that combines spicy ’nduja, a spreadable salami, with peak spring vegetables and just a bit of cream. The vegetables are blanched until just cooked through so they maintain their snappy texture and sweet flavor, which cuts the richness of the sauce.
2 tablespoons kosher salt
¾ pound gemelli or fusilli
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut on an angle into 1-inch pieces
½ pound sugar snap peas, ends trimmed and halved crosswis
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup frozen pearl onions
4 ounces ’nduja
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh tarragon
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the salt and return to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook for 1 minute less than the package directions for al dente instruct. Add the asparagus and snap peas and cook until crisp and tender, 1 minute more.
While the pasta cooks, prepare the sauce: Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the pearl onions and sauté until they begin to brown in spots, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Add the ’nduja to the skillet, breaking it up with the back of a spoon. Cook until it melts, about 2 minutes. Add the cream, bring to a simmer, and cook until the sauce begins to thicken, about 2 minutes.
Return the onions to the skillet and add the pasta and vegetables directly to the skillet. Toss to coat until the pasta becomes glossy, adding ¼ cup of pasta water or more (up to 1 cup), as needed to loosen up the sauce.
Plate in bowls and top with the tarragon.
COOK’S NOTE: I like to use asparagus that’s on the leaner side for this recipe as I find that fat stalks aren’t as flavorful. However, you don’t want them pencil thin. This recipe also calls for frozen pearl onions for ease. If you feel strongly about using fresh, keep in mind it will add extra time and preparation to the recipe as you’ll need to trim their roots and boil them before peeling.
Reprinted from Back Pocket Pasta. Copyright © 2017 by Colu Henry. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Peden + Munk. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
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