'Nduja Is The Spicy Protein Your Mac & Cheese Has Been Missing

When it comes to classic comfort foods, few dishes hit as hard as simple mac and cheese. But mac isn't just for spooning gratefully into eager mouths under a blanket on solo Friday movie nights. It's also for busy weeknights when getting a well-balanced dinner on the table can feel like a statistical impossibility. That's where add-ins like chicken, bacon, breadcrumbs, and broccoli come in. Some mac and cheese enthusiasts even elevate their pasta with lobster mac and cheese or buffalo cauliflower for plant-based foodies. Today, we're talking about one perhaps less-popular ingredient that can take your mac to the next level — both from a culinary standpoint and as a utilitarian well-rounded meal.

Introducing 'nduja: The spicy protein your mac and cheese has been missing. In case you've never worked with it before, 'nduja (pronounced en-DOO-ya) is a type of fermented pork sausage native to the Calabria region of Italy. But, like many popular regional foods, the meat (aka "salume") goes by different names depending on where in the region you're enjoying it. That 'nduja might be called "anduja," "'ndugghia," or "'nduda." 'Nduja lends a deep red hue to whatever dish it touches, along with a salty, funky, spicy, umami flavor. Its signature spiciness comes from Calabrian chilis, which are ground up and incorporated into the meat. So, other than lending a powerful punch of flavor and some added protein to boot, what makes 'nduja a good fit for mac and cheese?

'Nduja know what you've been missin'?

The flavor is one thing (and a super important thing at that), but when it comes to 'nduja, the texture is the star of the show. The sausage has a 3:1 ratio of fat to lean muscle. (For comparison, soppressata has a 1:3 ratio.) Its natural fattiness creates 'nduja's unique spreadable, almost pâté-like texture. Not only does this make for a pleasant mouthfeel, but it means that 'nduja will get all melty when warmed and easily incorporate into your mac and cheese for a creamy sauce.

Plus, adding 'nduja is as simple as slicing it up and stirring it into your mac. Like smoked salmon, you don't have to cook the sausage to prepare it; 'nduja comes ready to eat. This would work with homemade mac or a box; just add the amount of 'nduja you like to taste. For a complimentary taste, drizzle in some honey; the sweetness will pleasantly offset the spiciness of the Calabrian chilis. Admittedly, for as delicious as 'nduja is, it's an ingredient that isn't always easy to find in North America. Hit up your local butcher or deli shop, or order from an online retailer of Italian foodstuffs like Fortuna. Some Whole Foods locations carry 'nduja spread made with prosciutto, which could function well as a substitute for stirring into your mac and cheese.