We humans have celebrated with feasts as long as we’ve been eating, a reflex likely hardwired into us from lean times. But sharing food connects us, too, through a shared experience that fosters conviviality when we come together over a good, long meal. And while we love the traditional holiday foods, you don’t need a turkey to have a feast. Over the next few weeks we’ll share some of our favorite foods for any celebration.
When I was growing up every holiday meal included something creamy, an indulgent dish usually made only for special occasions. For years I made my mother’s creamed onions, using the same canned pearl onions she did but upping the ante on her white sauce by adding three kinds of cheese and a healthy slug of bourbon. But inspired years ago by Portland chef Jason French’s creamed kale at the now-closed Ned Ludd, now I make creamy greens for celebration dinners.
These greens get extra flavor and a little chile heat from ‘nduja, the soft, spreadable salami originally from southern Italy I like to call spicy pork butter. ‘Nduja (en-DOO-ya) comes from cucina povere, poor people’s food, and originally used the scraps and organ meat left over after selling the better cuts. Modern versions combine leg, shoulder, and belly mixed with moderately hot Calabrian chiles.
The chopped greens are slowly cooked with onion and extra virgin olive oil. While they simmer, I cook a little fatty pork – pancetta, guancialle, or bacon all work – in a bit more olive oil and add flour to make a roux, then pour in heavy cream to make a rich besciamella. I mix in the cooked greens and add a big dollop of ‘nduja. It melts into the sauce and gives it a distinctive ruddy color and pronounced chile heat.