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Let us sing of... Spicy Italian Sausage
Okay, it's been months and months since the honeymoon. The crux of the problem is that I went and spent a full month meticulously organizing all my notes about the trip (if you want to read the organized but slightly terse full details, you can find them here in Google Docs, and find the photos in this Google album). But of course, by the time I was done with that, I was kind of worn-out, so I never actually started writing the entries themselves. Humph.

So fine -- let's just start to post about random subjects as I feel inspired. In this particular case, we're going to talk about pizza -- and specifically, about strange forms of sausage.

[Context: the honeymoon was in October, and consisted mainly of five days in Florence, followed by five days in Rome.]

While we were in Italy, food was obviously going to be a high priority -- our relationship was founded on a mutual fondness for good restaurants, and we were bloody well going to explore. But in Rome specifically, one of my high priorities was Pizza. I've heard for many years that Roman pizza is great (if you like the thin-crust style, which I do), so trying out Roman pizza was a necessity. In fact, I did so three times, with three dramatically different results.

First up was Ivo a Trastavere. I should note that, by and large, I did *not* love Rome -- it just isn't quite my speed, and we only had a so-so time there. But Trastevere, across the river (kind of the Cambridge to Rome's Boston), was quite another matter: smaller, funkier, and generally more interesting. Ivo was a fine, down-to-earth pizza joint, mostly filled with locals (and a line well out the door by the time we left), which is my usual sign of somewhere I want to eat. The Salame Picante pizza there was excellent -- big, thin slices of a salami that is close enough to pepperoni to make a fine comparison to home, on a thin crust with cheese and sauce that simply worked together correctly. Nothing quite world-class, but certainly better than most.

On the other hand, there was the place near to the Colosseum, Cafe Biga. Yes, they have a website, but I'm not going to link to it, because I don't want to give them publicity. The lunch we had there was, in a word, terrible. The prices were high, the pizza claimed to be another Salame Picante but had remarkably little flavor, and Kate's Bolognese managed to actually be worse than you usually find at generic Italian restaurants here. To top it off, the waitress spent most of her time standing next to the customer tables (out on the sidewalk), smoking at us. The one truly bad meal we had in Italy; avoid it if you happen to be in that neck of the woods.

So we were 1-for-2 going into the final full day, when we tried out the Obika Mozzarella Bar. This place is fascinating, and I dearly wish they had more serious outlets in the US. They are all about the cheese -- we kind of wished we had more people with us, to make it worth doing the flight of Mozzarellas they offered -- but they also had an interesting selection of pizzas. I tried the “N’Duja e Burrata”, which seemed to be a hot sausage pizza.

*That* was my first introduction to N'Duja. Suffice it to say, the pizza got to the table, and I disappointedly went, "Wait -- I ordered hot sausage! Where's the sausage?". The pizza simply had big blobs of Mozzarella, and lumps of squishy herbaceous stuff. So I took a big bite -- and nearly had my head blown off.

N'Duja is perhaps the weirdest sausage anywhere. It isn't hard; it isn't even conventionally soft sausage. Instead, it is a mushy, spreadable mix of pork, spices and OMFG a lot of hot pepper. The pizza was Bloody Freaking Hot, one of those eating experiences where you spend the whole time going, "Ow, ow, ow -- god, this is great -- ow." The flavor was magnificently savory, and the pizza was overall excellent: great cheese as you would expect from the specialist shop, plus just the right sauce and crust. Overall, it sealed the conclusion that yes, Rome *does* have the best pizza. (If, as demonstrated by Cafe Biga, not consistently so.)

Which brings us back to my last post, and specifically Eataly in NYC. When we got home from Rome, one of the first things I did was go online to find where I could get N'Duja -- only to be bitterly disappointed. So far, I've only found it in jars, which have to be bought in six-packs and cost a fortune. So my general impression, that Eataly carries *everything*, was sealed when I found packs of N'Duja sitting there, on the shelf. We couldn't buy it and get it home, sadly (it needs refrigeration, and we were taking the bus home), but we did eventually find someone there who understood what we were talking about, and helped us figure out that the stuff comes from George's Brand Meats, in Chicago. Far as I can guess, it's custom-made for Eataly -- they don't have it listed on their website -- but I am sore tempted to see whether we can talk Dave's Fresh Pasta into commissioning a wholesale order of the stuff. Camberville *needs* to discover N'Duja...

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(Deleted comment)
Interesting suggestion. I only know them slightly (Union Square is just a tad far for my usual walks, and I've only been in a couple of times), but from what I know it *does* seem to be up their alley. I'll look for an opportunity to talk to them about it -- thanks!

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They're two different outlets of the same store. (Although, now that you point it out, the Cambridge store is actually closer to me than the Somerville one, zip codes notwithstanding. Useful to know...)

I have had that!
Now I need to remember who's father or grandfather made it.

It turns out I've been making a lot of sausage lately. If you don't want it in a casing, and you have a food processor, it's incredibly easy.

Take a pound of chopped meat -- you can start with ground if you like, it will be faster, but chopping it yourself is doable. Add extra fat. Add salt. Add spices. Whir until desired lack of chunkiness occurs.

Now, you want to taste it, but you don't want to taste raw meat. Heat up your smallest frying pan -- the one you use for scrambled eggs for one. When it's hot, take a small spoonful of mix and slap it in. Use a spatula to flatten. When it gets brown on one side, flip to the other. You should have a tiny little sausage patty, maybe the size of a quarter and twice as thick. It will cook rapidly.

Pull it out and taste. You can fix anything except too salty, and if you have more meat, you can fix that, too. When you've got a ratio you like, write it down so you don't need to go through the experiment-cook-taste cycle (edit-compile-debug) next time.

Put uncooked sausage in a freezer-grade ziploc and get all the air out of it. It will last in your fridge for a week, or in your freezer for a few months.

To get American-style Italian sausage, the spices are fennel seed, garlic, black pepper, generic Italian seasoning mix, a little paprika -- not smoked -- and a greater or lesser amount of powdered hot peppers.

For an Andouille-style sausage, garlic, smoked paprika, powdered chile peppers.

I've had remarkable success with Costco's Kirkland No-Salt Seasoning mix, which obviously needs salt, but has all the flavors for chicken soup.

Yeah, but NDuja is different. I've been doing some digging around online, and getting it right is a complex process, far as I can tell -- it specifically calls for Calabrian hot pepper, it requires just the right proportions of meats and spices to achieve the spreadability (probably the weirdest aspect of this sausage), and it needs to be smoked and hung for a fair while to get the depth of flavor.

Seriously: from what I had in Italy, both the flavor and texture are dramatically different from any other sausage I've encountered. It's a cousin of Andouille, but diverged a long ways from those roots...

THere's a new place in Waltham, Moody’s Delicatessen and Provisions, that makes and cures all of their own charcuterie, including salamis. I saw 'nduja in the case when we were there, and wondered about it.

Ooooh -- okay, I may have to go look that up. (Does so.) Okay, that's new, all right. But I'll be right there this afternoon anyway (they're across the street from Outer Limits, far as I can tell), so clearly I should check it out. Thanks for the tip!

Let me know how it goes. If they live up to the promise I'll add them to my list of places for specialties.

Darnit! We ate at that self same Obika last summer (and our friends also at at the one in Milan, leading to the recommendation). But I totally missed out on the N'Duja experience, which sounds right up my alley... The mozzarella, on the other hand, was fantastic.

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