Last week I talked about “healing foods,” and this week, I’m going to discuss everyday foods—these are specifically the ones that I could eat every day. Look, I’ll be honest, if I had to go to the chair, the one meal I’d pick would not be a filet mignon or a lobster, it would be a sandwich or an antipasto platter with a nice glass of vino.
That’s it. I’m easy to please, and coldcuts are really pleasing to me. Yes, I love meatballs and macaroni and pizza and so many other foods, but salami (or any kind of dried cured meat) is perfection to me.
Ham, salami and provolone are the three main ingredients in the classic “Italian Hero.” Some say this sandwich (or “seng-weech” in goomba speech) originated in New York, I’ve also heard a few others say it was invented in Lodi, NJ (land-of-distinguished-Italians or lots-of-dynamite-Italians). We may never know, but what we cugines know for sure is that it’s a delicious hero—an especially scrumptious delight if made right, and made with the finest of meats and cheese.
The salami must always be Genoa and the ham must always be the ovenbaked premium. The provolone—imported and extra sharp. But the thing that really makes this hero is the bread. You can’t have it too hard or too doughy. A nice crisp crunch on the outside has to always be balanced out with the soft, fresh center, and for this I like Italian rolls with Semolina seeds or pana di casa.
The other ingredients are plump, ripe Roma tomatoes, lettuce and onions. And of course, a sandwich has to be properly dressed. I keep it fairly simple with sea salt, cracked pepper and dried oregano. Finally, the oil and vinegar is added on both sides of the roll before the sandwich is closed. You cannot skimp on these condiments, and I use nothing less than imported extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar of Modena. Yes, I prefer balsamic over red wine vinegar.
Whether you are packing a lunch for a ballgame tailgate, a big picnic with the paisans or a bocce tournament with the bacciagaloops, this standard selection is never ordinary and always extraordinary. A perfect, fulfilling hero for everyone to enjoy—young and old.
Another sandwich I love is one I call “Salumi Supremo,” which is another “Italian Hero” using a few other deli meats. Here’s how you build it…
Slice open a crisp, six inch roll. Again, dress each half with oil and vinegar, sea salt, pepper, oregano. Take two sun-dried tomatoes and press them down on each half of the bread into the doughy center so they absorb the liquid and seasoning. Close the roll and then open it up again. Place a sliced roasted red pepper on each half. Next you layer the cheese and coldcuts.
Take two slices of gabba-gole (capicola), two slices of pro-shoot (prosciutto di Parma), two slices of mortadella, two slices of mozzarella and stack on one half. Repeat the process on the other half. Close roll and enjoy!
Last but not least, here is how I arrange The Johnny Meatballs Antipast’ Platter...
Evenly spread a bed of Romaine and iceberg lettuce down on a serving tray (about a 2 inch layer). On top of the lettuce, carefully arrange the following meats, cheeses, and various jarred Italian delights: salami, pepperoni, capicola, soppressata, prosciutto (or try Italian speck if you can find it), mortadella, Italian roast beef, extra sharp provolone, fresh mozzarella (for platters, I generally prefer using mozzarella di bufala). Assorted giardiniera like cauliflower and carrots, sweet roasted red peppers, pepperoncinis, artichoke hearts, marinated mushrooms and olives can be added, as well as sardines/anchovies, nuts and fruits of the season (figs, sliced pears, grapes, clementines and finook around the holidays). Garnish the platter with fresh basil leaves and dried spices of choice. For an extra flavor explosion, I like a little Balsamic glaze on the side, which is an aged, sweet, almost honey-like topper.
Honorable mention goes out to the roast turkey & Swiss as far as “American” sandwiches go. Other than that, I usually don’t deviate. (I’m NOT a liverwurst fan!) Please keep in mind, I don’t get these foods at places like Subway, and you shouldn’t either. The old-school salumerias* in North Jersey and New York are where to go. You’ll know them by the unmistakable smells of cutlets and broccoli rabe being prepared and sticks of dried sausages hanging from the ceiling.
These are run by Italian families for generations, with Lazzaroni amaretti snaps on the shelves and Manhattan Specials in the cooler. Some such markets are real all-purpose paisan pit-stops with items ranging from DeNobili cigars, Anisette, Brioschi, Vero Marsiglia soap, mopeens, cookbooks, pasta machines, the novelties like the red plastic horns and soccer shirts for sale, or even Sinatra tapes. But it all goes back to the meats for Johnny Meatballs. Think of the scene in “The Pope of Greenwich Village” where Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts are eating lunch in the park. Those were sandwiches baby!
*Below are thirteen of my favorite such stores (in no particular order):
1.) Piccolo’s (484 Bergen Boulevard, Ridgefield, NJ), 2.) DePalma Brother’s (44 Bergen Boulevard, Fairview, NJ), 3.) Jerry’s Gourmet (410 South Dean Street, Englewood, NJ), 4.) Bartolomeo (105 North Dean Street, Englewood, NJ), 5.) Visentini Brothers (256 Union Street, Lodi, NJ), 6.) Corrado’s Family Affair(1578 Main Avenue, Clifton, NJ), 7.) Carluccio’s (184 Route 9 North, Englishtown NJ), 8.) Latona’s (279 Harrison Avenue, Garfield, NJ) 9.) Fiore’s (414 Adams Street, Hoboken, NJ), 10.) R & F Deli (216 Hoboken Road, East Rutherford NJ), 11.) Joe Leone’s (400 Route 35 South, Point Pleasant, NJ), 12.) Joe’s Deli (685 East 187th Street, Bronx, NY), 13.) Mike’s Deli (2344 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY)
…And one day I plan to travel to California and try the treat above. To me, that looks better than a piece of the sweetest chocolate cake.
Boccalone Salumeria Official Website: