Ndunderi, pronounced with something of a nasal quality as "dune - der - ee," are a little known but most satisfying delight from the bay of Naples. If you have an Italian American background, chances are that your ancestors came from Southern Italy. If you remember hearing your grandparents or great grandparents talk you know that they did not “speak” Italian, they “sang” it. Italian phrases that I remember from childhood are not distinguishable as individual words. They were a flow of indistinguishable sounds, some highly musical, others peppery expletives. I recall the phrase, “mah’lay-bonz” which I think meant; “You’re a pain in the stomach. “ Similar to this phrase was “doo-zee-pots,” which now, as an adult who speaks Italian, I have come to know is a corruption of “Tu sei pozzo,” “You are crazy.” There was also the phrase spoken to babies, “Doo – zee – pee-zhad,” which meant, “You wet your diaper.” There was also the call “Aye … why-yoh,” that was addressed to any young man. I still have no idea what that means. One of the most curious aspects of the Southern Italian dialect is the way it doubles consonants at the beginning of words. This consonant doubling is not just a question of spelling. The double consonant is characteristic of how Southern Italians sing their language. Wikipedia offers a very interesting look at the Neapolitan dialect. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neapolitan_dialect . And here is a word and a food from the Amalfi area that offers a perfect example of the Neapolitan dialect and food: “ndunderi. “ I came across the recipe for ndunderi (doon-der-ee) when I was researching gnocchi and cavatelli. “Ndunderi” were not something I had ever heard of. Even though these gnocchi like pasta come from the Naples region, I don’t think this variety of dumpling ever came to America. I have never heard the word among Italian American friends nor have I ever seen it on the menus of any Italian American restaurant. In fact, I have never even heard of them in Italy. Now I must also say that as a child I really don’t even recall the word “gnocchi.” We had what we called “gah-vah-deels,” that is, “cavatelli.” They were made with either potato or ricotta. Only later did I learn that, at least in theory, cavatelli are longer and thinner and made with ricotta, while gnocchi are somewhat stumpy and made with potato.
Below are two images that I found online. I've credited them.
While the “gah-vah-deels,” were delightful and filling and a most satisfying dish, they were also extremely dense and heavy. And the old time gravy did little to lighten them. Because of their "weight condition," they were comically referred to as 'lead sinkers." (A lead sinker is a fishing term. It refers to the pendant shaped weight that is attached to the end of your fishing line to keep the hook and bait from floating. I knotted many of them when I worked on the fishing pier in front of our house.)
From Angling Fish
They look just like gnocchi.
“Gah-vah-deels” were often a summer dish. Our summer home was right on the beach in New Jersey. When we came in from the beach with the smell of the salt still in our noses, after acold outdoor shower and a fresh t-shirt and shorts, the “gah-vah-deels” were an ecstatic delight. Perhaps because of the sun and the salt and the sea all of our senses were heightened. But why did we never have “ndunderi?” That this pasta went missing is all the more curious to me since one of my grandparents came from Sorrento and another from Torre Annunziata, two towns of the Amalfi coast where ndunderi come from. Yet we never had “ndunderi, or ever heard of them.
According to most Italian sites, ndunderi are a most ancient form of pasta and are even recognized as such by UNESCO. In Roman times, they were made from ground faro or other grains. The liquid was originally sour milk. Ndunderi as they are known today, at least in most recipes, are made from a combination of semolina and regular white flour. For the liquid, today’s ndunderi use ricotta cheese and eggs. According to one Italian site, “Virtual Sorrento,” http://www.virtualsorrento.com/it/cucina/ndunderi.htm, the pre-columbian version of ndunderi were rather large dumplings. They were garnished with various spices and olive oil. With the discovery of America and the introduction of the tomato, the dumpling became smaller and tomato sauce came into play. The problem I encounter with ndundri is the proportions of semolina and regular flour. From the many tests I have made, too much semolina does not work at all. Too much flour and you may as well make gnocchi. The problem is compounded by the flour and eggs and ricotta that you may use. Each of these ingredients have a different dry/moisture level. So, for ndunderi you have to really work from sense and feel.
Virtual Sorrento old time version
Old time Ndunderi
In the curious way things happen simultaneously, I happened to see an episode of David Rocco’s Amalfi Getaway. What was the featured item on that show but ndunderi? The significant variation in the recipe he presented was the sauce. David Rocco’s recipe featured a sauce of lemon flavored cream. At first this confused me, since it seemed that the lemon juice would curdle the cream. But I figured that if I added the lemon juice first to the melted butter, and then slowly added the cream, it might work. And it did. What’s more, as my daughter pointed out, this lemon sauce would be a delight on baked fish and also on asparagus.
The Amalfi Coast
What you need
What you need
Two Sauces: Tomato Sausage / Lemon Cream
Make the sauces in advance
Make the sauces in advance
Cento San Marzano tomatoes
Ground pork from sausages
Red pepper (optional)
Using a spoon and fork break down the pork as you brown it in the olive oil.
When the meat has browned, add the chopped garlic.