The suddenly (and literally) hot Calabrian salume known as 'Nduja is one of the most unlikely product trends I'm happy to see take off this year.
Aside from the fact that its spelling confounds easy pronunciation (say: "En-Doo-Gia"), the notion of a spreadable spicy sausage is not for everyone. But I love its intensity.
And so do many chefs who've come to appreciate it as an ingredient, perhaps more than showcasing it on its own for its ability to infuse anything with pork and spice. But you know an ingredient has reached saturation when it's mentioned in a dish title that doesn't contain it at all.
The menu's use of quotes for Mercato's "'Nduja" Bolognese means the kitchen (previously under Ryan McQuillan, and now with chef Mark Cerogino) was simply inspired by the salume's seasonings - Calabrian chilies, oregano, and fennel pollen - that add southern Italian swagger to a familiar meat sauce made here with ground pork shoulder and beef short rib.
I don't know whether adding the real salume would have been better. But this rendition worked perfectly well for me, the assertive and fresh spice adding a persistently sunny glow to every bite of the house-made tagliatelle.
The addition of dry-aged beef added an even longer savor, with the added boost of roux made from the rendered fat. Hearty and addictive, it tastes like another signature dish for this popular BYOB known mostly for its pyramid-shaped lobster ravioli. A firm hand on spice and quotation marks, it seems, can go along way toward giving an old standby a trendy new attitude.
- Craig LaBan
'Nduja and beef Bolognese, $23, Mercato, 1216 Spruce St., 215-985-2962; mercatobyob.com
This article has been updated to properly credit creation of this rendition of 'Nduja Bolognese to Mercato's previous chef, Ryan McQuillan.