2011 March: Spicy Alternative

What exactly is soppressata? In a nutshell, it’s a form of dry- cured salami. A specialty of southern Italy, it is traditionally made using pork (beef is used on occasion). The basic seasonings include cracked red pepper and garlic. Depending on who is making it, some versions are hotter than others (in other words, more red pepper is used). Overall, I love the fragrant, spicy flavor of soppressata.

A number of Italian restaurants in Chicago use soppressata as part of a salumi (cured meats) and cheese platter. And when used as part of this style of antipasti platter, soppressata should be sliced thin (even thinner than pepperoni).

Speaking of pepperoni, soppressata works as a perfect stand-in or substitute for pepperoni –– it can be used on a pizza the same way you would use pepperoni. Romance it a bit, though, by saying something like “soppressata calabrese –– a spicy salami” on your toppings list. Test a few slices to see how much fat it throws off (some fat is a good thing, since it adds to the overall flavor) and if there is excessive “cupping.”

When I am replacing pepperoni with soppressata on a pizza, I find that a coarse chop works great. I scatter the chopped soppressata atop the cheese and across the pizza. It makes for a great presentation and a flavor that is hard to beat. Having said that, I should also point out that, on average, soppressata has a higher food cost than pepperoni.

Beyond using it for pizza, I also use it to kickstart a red sauce by sauteéing chopped soppressata in olive oil and crushed garlic. Then I add crushed all- purpose tomatoes, oregano and basil. That’s it! You’ve got a delicious, gently meaty red sauce.

Soppressata has a variety of uses beyond pizza or the aforementioned meats platter. Try using it in a sandwich, for example. Check out this Panini recipe and see what you think:

PANINI CALABRESE

Yield: 8 sandwiches (scale up in direct proportion)

8 to 12 ounces (about 16 to 24 slices) thinly sliced soppressata (dry-cured Italian salami)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

8 thin slices prosciutto

8 thin slices fresh mozzarella

8 panini buns or rolls, toasted or grilled

1 cup roasted red bell pepper strips

16 large fresh basil leaves

In a nonstick sauté pan set over medium- high heat, fry the soppressata until lightly crisp and some fat has rendered, about 2 minutes per side. Remove it to a plate.

Lightly brush the buns or bread with extra-virgin olive oil.

Layer each bun this way: the soppressata, 2 slices prosciutto, 2 slices mozzarella, 2-3 strips of roasted red bell pepper strips on one slice of the bread. Top with the other slice and place the sandwich in the pan, pressing down on the sandwich with the palm of your hand. When that side is lightly toasted, about 3 to 4 minutes, flip the sandwich and toast the other side. (Alternatively, use a sandwich press or panini grill.)

Remove the sandwich to a cutting board and open the sandwich. Lay down four basil leaves on each sandwich. Close the sandwiches, then slice them in half to serve.

PASTA WITH SOPPRESSATA AND EGGPLANT

Yield: 4 servings (Scale up in direct proportion)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 eggplant (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut into ½-inch dice

1 cup chopped yellow onion

¼ pound soppressata in chunks about ¼-inch thick

3 cups canned plum tomatoes with juices

¼ teaspoon (or to taste) dried red pepper flakes

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 pound farfalle pasta (or other short pasta such as penne, rigatoni)

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Rub a baking sheet or sheet pan with the olive oil. Arrange the eggplant in one layer on the pan. Sprinkle the onion over the eggplant. Roast the eggplant and onion for about 20 minutes until it is barely tender (can be prepared up to 2 hours ahead and held).

While the eggplant is roasting, make the sauce. In a large saute pan set over medium-high heat, cook and stir the soppressata until it throws off some fat and starts to crisp, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and red pepper flakes. Add the pepper. Simmer the sauce vigorously for about 20 minutes or until the sauce is reduced to about 2 cups (can be prepared several hours ahead and held).

Add the roasted eggplant and onions to the tomatoes. Turn the heat down to maintain a low, steady simmer.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water until it is al dente. Drain the pasta and turn it out into a large heated serving bowl. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss to combine. Divide the pasta among four heated serving bowls. Top each serving with grated Parmesan cheese. u

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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