Spicy Cauliflower and Eggplant Ragù with 'Nduja is easily made in just over one hour. Robust, it possesses great character with chunks of cauliflower, creamy eggplant, and smooth tomatoes flavored with smoky, garlicky, peppery 'nduja. This salumi paste is the only meat accent included; easily substitute with hot chili peppers for an all-vegetarian version. Make it as mild or fiery-hot as you wish.
Double the recipe and cook in advance for workweek meals, just change how you serve it. Spiralized fresh zucchini noodles, your favorite pasta such as cavatappi, shells, mezzi rigatoni, or penne, cornmeal polenta, fried tofu, fried eggs…all make fine main dishes paired with this ragù. Serve Spicy Cauliflower and Eggplant Ragù with 'Nduja as an appetizer topping crostini or toast, or as a side dish accompanying sauteed fish filet or chicken.
Cooking time is 1 hour 15 minutes. Makes 4 1/2 cups (1.06 liters) ragù.
4 to 6 servings
Spicy Cauliflower and Eggplant Ragù:
2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium celery stalk, chopped
1/2 large red or yellow onion, chopped
4 tablespoons ‘Nduja (2 ounces or 56 g)
OR whole or ground dried red chili peppers to taste
4 garlic cloves or to taste, finely chopped
3 cups (24 ounces or 710 ml) tomato passata, fresh or bottled
1 fresh bay leaf
Fresh or dried oregano to taste – generous pinches
Fresh basil leaves
Salt to taste
1/2 medium head cauliflower, florets (8 ounces or 227 g = 2 cups florets or 473 ml volume)
1 large eggplant with skin on (8 ounces or 227 g = 2 1/2 cups cubed or 591 ml volume)
6 ounces (170 g) fresh cherry tomatoes
OR 1 cup (8 ounces or 237 ml; 4 large canned) peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped plum or San Marzano tomatoes
Zucchini Noodles: 1 1/2 pounds (680 g) raw zucchini noodles. Spiralize your own or purchase commercially-prepared.
Extra-virgin olive oil for sauteing briefly
Herb Garnish: Fresh coriander, basil, or parsley leaves
Topping: Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Ricotta Salata, Pecorino, or other aged hard cheese
Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
1. Soffritto: This step takes 10 minutes. Pour the oil into the pot. Over low heat, saute the celery and onion until softening and beginning to turn translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the ‘Nduja, and stir to break it apart, simmer until fragrant without burning, or add the dried chili peppers. Add the garlic and stir for a few seconds until fragrant.
2. Increase heat to high. Add the tomato passata, bay leaf, oregano, and basil. Taste and add salt as needed, remember 'Nduja contains salt. Bring to a boil, then decrease heat to low. Leave the pot uncovered but place a splatter screen over because the sauce tends to pop. Simmer until an aromatic tomato sauce is formed that remains very moist, about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, prepare the cauliflower and eggplant.
Cauliflower: Cut 1/2 cauliflower head into florets. Cut off the stems and save for another use or include in the ragù as you wish. (Yield is 2 cups or 473 ml raw volume becoming 1 3/4 cups or 414 ml cooked volume.) Make sure the florets are 1-inch (2.5-cm) in diameter because when cooked, they soften and break apart in the ragù. To reduce cauliflower’s strong flavor and bring out sweetness, steam or boil florets until firm al dente when pierced with a fork, about 4 to 6 minutes. Drain, cool, reserve.
Eggplant: Cut eggplant into 1/2-inch (12.7-mm) cubes, leaving the skin on. (Yield is 2 1/2 cups or 591 ml volume once cubed.) Lightly salt and place inside a colander for liquid to drain off for 30 minutes. Quickly rinse under cold running water, drain well, blot dry. Pour a small amount of oil into a non-stick pan and heat. Add the eggplant cubes and saute over high heat for about 5 minutes until very hot to the touch and beginning to lightly brown in some areas. Stir to prevent sticking but be careful not to tear apart. Remove pan from the heat.
This step takes 30 minutes. Stir the cherry tomatoes or coarsely chopped tomatoes into the simmering tomato sauce. Stir in the sauteed eggplant cubes. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Add the steamed or boiled cauliflower florets and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Remove the pot from the heat. Taste and add salt if needed. Cool down. Allow flavors to settle and blend for 30 minutes before reheating and serving. Or cool down, cover, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days.
3. Preparing the Zucchini Noodles: If the spiralized zucchini noodles are purchased commercially, or homemade in advance, both versions might look a bit dry. So put zucchini noodles in a colander and run cool water over them to freshen. Drain well.
Sauteing for 2 to 3 minutes: Do not add salt unless you want to extract the juice. In a non-stick pan, warm the olive oil over high heat. Add the zucchini noodles and warm, using tongs to lift, separate, and turn over the strands since they are somewhat fragile and break easily. The noodles absorb the heat for about 2 to 3 minutes, then quickly collapse releasing their juice, so watch carefully. Using tongs, lift them up and place in a colander over a bowl or in the sink to drain-off excess juice. Transfer to individual plates.
4. Serving Spicy Cauliflower and Eggplant Ragù: Meanwhile warm the ragù over low heat for 10 minutes or until hot to the touch. Spoon large dollops of it over the zucchini noodles. Garnish with fresh herbs. Grate cheese over, then grind black pepper on top. Enjoy every luscious bite.
Originating in the small town of Spilinga in southern Calabria, its popularity is spreading and excellent variations of ‘Nduja made in the USA and other countries are readily available. Learn more about ‘Nduja