Ndunderi – Story of an Italian Dumpling

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If you have and Italian American background, chances are that your ancestors came from South 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.) 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.

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. nduderi as they are known today are, 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,” 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.

In the curious way things happen simultaneously, I happened to see an episode of David Rocco’s Amalfi Getaway, and what the featured item 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 recipe for ndunderi are at http://www.thefoodtable.com/ndunderi.html

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