There was a vivid travel/food story a while ago in The Telegraph newspaper, all about the centrality of pork and chilies in the cooking of Calabria — the toe of the Italian boot, south of Naples. Since pork and chilies are fairly central in my own cooking, too, I read this eagerly, ogling in particular a photograph of what looked for all the world like a pan of cinnamon buns: spirals of dough and filling baked together so you could pull them apart and enjoy them with your breakfast coffee.
Except they weren’t cinnamon buns (and that’s not coffee in my cup). What might have been a brown sugar and spice filling was, in fact, pork and chilies. Oh boy!
The dough was akin to pizza dough, and the pork and chilies took the form of ’nduja, a spicy spreadable sausage that is gaining modest popularity in the United States. (To pronounce it, just move the “a” in “andouille” to the end of the word). You can get an excellent version from California’s Boccalone online or in some specialty stores.
I used my normal food-processor pizza dough: two scant cups of flour (bread flour would be fine, but then so would all purpose), a good 1/2 teaspoon of instant yeast and a big pinch of kosher salt (less if you use the denser Morton’s or fine table salt), with blood-temperature water gradually added to the workbowl to form a soft-but-not-sticky dough.
Taste it for salt (despite what your mother may have told you, a scrap of raw dough won’t explode in your stomach), then, with the machine running, incorporate a generous tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Put it into a closed container and leave it to rise for a few hours — or all day if you like. (Punch it down if you can, but there’s no harm if you don’t.)
From the cook’s point of view, once the dough is made, this dish is as close to a ready-made meal as you can get without actually reaching into the freezer for a TV dinner. The ’nduja is already perfectly — and highly — seasoned, so all you need to do is take about 7 ounces of it out of its casing (which may leave you with a little to snack on), briefly warm it in the microwave (or in a bowl over hot water) to soften it, smear it over the dough, which should be rolled/stretched into a rough rectangle maybe 18 inches wide and a foot deep.
From there, coil the dough tightly like an 18-inch-long jelly roll, cut it crosswise into 1 1/2-inch lengths, arrange these in a baking dish or cake pan, let rise for 45 minutes or an hour (covered with plastic wrap) and then bake (plastic removed) in a 425-degree oven for 35 minutes or thereabouts, until medium brown. Leave the buns in the pan to cool, covered with a towel — the towel will keep them from getting hard. You want them crisp-soft.
During the baking, chili-colored fat from the ’nduja will gather at the bottom of the pan; luckily, this will be reabsorbed by the rolls. You can serve them, with or without cheese, as a snack with drinks for five or six. (For cheese, think ricotta salata or some sort of smoked ricotta — something that will contrast with the spicy sausage). Or, as Jackie pointed out, two people could eat them all, with a simple lettuce salad, for dinner.
A friend of ours, who has a keen visual sense, proposed devising some kind of cheese-sauce topping that could be drizzled over these buns to make them look even more like cinnamon rolls. Sounds like fun.