This is my best original pasta sauce recipe: 'nduja sausage with smoked caramelized onions, tomatoes, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and garlic. This entire recipe can be done either on your Traeger Grill (or whatever smoker you may have) or on your stovetop. Both results are ridiculously delicious and complex in rich umami flavour.
This is also a very simple recipe that requires only a few ingredients.
And although I call this a "pasta sauce," you can actually use it in multiple ways: a dip with crackers and chips, a spread for your bread, a stuffing for various peppers like sweet banana peppers or hot jalapenos.
Whatever you do, just make this recipe. It's quickly become one of my favourites and I think you will see why after trying it for yourself.
What Is 'Nduja Sausage?
'Nduja sausage is a spicy, spreadable and versatile pork salumi from Italy that makes a frequent appearance in my cooking. It hails from the small southern Calabrian town of Spilinga and its surrounding neighbourhoods.
'Nduja recipes will vary throughout Calabria and Italy depending on the maker and family, but the sausage is traditionally made with various porky bits that may include parts of the head, shoulder, belly, and even tripe mixed with roasted hot red peppers.
The taste is rich, complex, and deeply savoury with a fiery spicy kick.
You can find 'nduja in many specialty stores that carry fine Italian products or even make it yourself (which I will post a recipe for some time in the future).
Smoked or Stovetop?
'Nduja is traditionally smoked in the making which means that even if you make this entire recipe on your stovetop instead of the Traeger, it will still have some smoky flavour.
You can, however, make this entire recipe directly on your Traeger Grill. You may also choose to only make certain components on your Traeger Grill and the rest on your stovetop.
If you prefer a less smoky flavour, stick to the stovetop.
I personally love the intense spicy smokiness playing off of the natural sweetness of the onions and tomatoes and the spiciness of the 'nduja.
Smoked Tomatoes & Caramelized Onions
I have recipes that show you how easy it is to make smoked tomatoes and caramelized onions on your Traeger Grill that also work for other smokers.
You can find both of those here:
Which Wood Pellets To Use?
For your Traeger, I recommend a milder wood for this particular recipe so as not to overwhelm the other flavours.
Try alder, apple, cherry, or even pecan but also — feel free to use whatever wood pellets you have on hand. I made this using hickory wood pellets the first time and it was great.
Buy Traeger 100% hardwood pellets (no additives) here:
I love my Traeger Grill. Learn more about them, read reviews, and compare prices amongst different models here:
What Type of Pan To Use?
In my pictures, you will see an enamelled cast iron Le Creuset pan. This can be used for most of the recipe — caramelizing the onions and mixing the rest of the ingredients together in the end. For smoking the tomatoes, use a baking sheet. For the garlic, use a garlic roaster or wrap the head of garlic up in some aluminum foil.
This applies to the stovetop and Traeger Grill variations of this recipe. Cast iron is best for caramelizing onions, but carbon and stainless steel work too.
Just try to avoid using a nonstick pan.
What Type of Pasta To Use?
If you are making this to eat with pasta, I recommend a handmade or high-quality dried egg noodle like tagliatelle or pappardelle. Also lovely would be a rustic buckwheat pasta, including one that has sweet chestnut flour in the mix.
A broad noodle works very well for the consistency of this rustic sauce but gnocchi would also be amazing.
Reserve some pasta water to make the sauce even silkier.
For vegetable-based noodles, try spiralized sweet potatoes or yams.
As a dip, this sauce is truly amazing. Add cream cheese to the mix if you wish, then a sharp cheddar on top before broiling until bubbly.
Use the sauce as a spread for a piece of rustic einkorn sourdough bread.
The sauce makes a wonderful filling for peppers. Sweet banana peppers are a nice complement and can make for a hearty dinner, as are jalapenos for a more appetizer or tapas-sized meal.
You can even wrap the peppers in bacon if you wish.
I enjoy this sauce both with and without garlic.
Try it both ways to see which you prefer.
Try making it without tomatoes as well. Just 'nduja and caramelized onions.
Add mushrooms like porcini mushrooms into the mix.
Add roasted red peppers or sauteed peppers of your choosing.
Exact amounts of each ingredient in my recipe are suggestions only. Experiment for yourself, always, to find what truly suits your tastes. That is the true beauty of cooking and developing recipes.
My Best Pasta Sauce Recipe: 'Nduja Sausage With Smoked Caramelized Onions, Tomatoes & Parmigiano-Reggiano (Traeger Grill or Stovetop)
A savoury and complex sauce that is also versatile and simple to execute.
Spicy 'nduja sausage with buttery caramelized onions, smoked tomatoes & garlic, & Parmesiano-Reggiano combine to make an umami treat that works as a pasta sauce, dip, or stuffing for peppers.
This sauce can be made entirely on your Traeger Grill or your stovetop — try it both ways to see what you prefer.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 2 hours
- Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
- Yield: 4 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Traeger Grill
- Cuisine: Italian American
- 6 Large Onions
- 5 medium tomatoes
- 1 lbs 'nduja sausage
- 1 head garlic
- 1/2 cup of Parmesano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
- 1 bay leaf
- Sea salt & black pepper
- Butter and/or olive oil
Instructions For The Traeger Grill:
- Set your Traeger Grill to Smoke with the lid open for 5 minutes until a fire is established. Then set the temperature to 250°
- While the Traeger is preheating, cut your onions in half and then slice thinly. Place onions in a cast iron pan with 1 bay leaf and a generous dollop of butter, up to 1/2 of a cup. (You can also use an equal mixture of butter and olive oil.)
- Slice tomatoes in half and coat with a bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and some freshly cracked black pepper. Place evenly spaced on a baking sheet.
- Slice the ends off of your head of garlic, exposing the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the entire head in aluminum foil or place in garlic roaster.
- Place the pan of onions, garlic, and sheet of tomatoes directly on your Traeger Grill and close the lid.
- Every 15 minutes stir your caramelizing onions.
- Once the tomatoes and garlic have finished remove from heat and set aside. The tomatoes will begin to crinkle and turn brown at the edges.
- The tomatoes and garlic will take from 45 minutes to 1 hour. The onions will take approximately 1.5 hours.
- Add your tomatoes and squeeze out your garlic cloves into into the pan of caramelized onions, keeping everything still on your Traeger.
- Stir to combine, crushing the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.
- Add the 'nduja sausage and keep stirring until the 'nduja has completely melted and combined into the sauce.
- Taste for salt, adding some if necessary.
- Remove from heat, stir in the Parmesano-Reggiano until melted.
- Serve atop pasta with freshly cracked black pepper microplaning more Parmesano on top.
Instructions For The Stovetop:
Same as above basically. You will use your oven preheated to 400° to roast the tomatoes and garlic and your stovetop to caramelize the onions.
Times will be roughly the same on your stoveop as for the Traeger Grill.
It is impossible to give exact times for a recipe like this as every individual has their own preference for the level of caramelization, tomato doneness and etc.