2010 June: Simply Salami

Salami is air-dried Italian sausage cured with salt. Since salt was one of the original preservatives for salami, the word derives from the Latin sal (salt). There are three basic types of salame (the plural): fresh, dry-aged and precooked. Each region in Italy has its salamis, whose flavors differ according to the local pig used, the seasonings, fillers, and the casing used (natural or artificial).

On the subject of salami, let me be clear that salami comes in different grades. For example, one of the salamis I prefer to use, no matter the purpose, is known as Genoa salami (a hard salami that has a more complex flavor than other salamis). I also favor cotto salami, which is cooked and seasoned with garlic and black peppercorns.

Also, some salami, cheaper brands generally speaking, have a very high fat content (you can see the many speckles of fat in a slice –– sometime as much fat as there is actual pork). In other words, Genoa salami is a meatier salami. Some dry salami are made with a mixture of pork and beef (and spices, of course).

The best way to determine which type of salami works for you is to sample and sample some more, then determine how you plan to use it on your menu. And that usage could be part of an antipasto platter, in a sandwich, a pasta salad, or other creative ways. Salami is a versatile product. In fact, I feel that salami is indispensable when it comes to making a great muffuletta. The secret to an especially tasty muffuletta has to do with the olive salad. Also, when the sandwich has been completed, wrapping it in plastic and letting it sit for up to an hour to let the fl avors blend enhances the overall goodness. Check out this recipe for a great muffaletta.

Magnificent Muffuletta
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

I large (1- to 1½-pound) loaf (round if possible) Italian bread, split in half
5-6 ounces giardiniera 2 tablespoons of the liquid from the giardiniera jar 1 cup pimento-stuffed olives, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ Pound sliced mozzarella
¼ Pound sliced capocollo
¼ pound sliced Genoa salami
¼ pound sliced mortadella
¼ pound sliced provolone

If using a round loaf of bread, split it horizontally and pull out some of the bread from the bottom half to form a pocket for the olive salad.

In a mixing bowl, combine the giardiniera, giardiniera liquid, pimento olives, garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper and olive oil. (Can be made hours ahead.)

Spread the olive salad evenly into the pocket of the bottom piece of bread. Layer in the mozzarella, capocollo, salami, mortadella, provolone (in that order) over the olive salad. Put on the top lid of bread and press down gently to seal. Wrap the muffuletta tightly with plastic wrap. Can be kept at room temperature for an hour. Cut into serving pieces (6 to 8, your choice). Garnish each plate with pepperoncini and olives.

Using the same idea as for the muffuletta, consider a sizzling good sub sandwich pizza. To do this, brush a pizza crust with the liquid from the olive salad. Now layer on the cheeses and the meats in the same order given for the muffuletta, except for the provolone. Over the meats, arrange thin slices of fresh Roma tomatoes. Over the tomatoes, sprinkle grated Romano cheese. Now layer the provolone over the tomatoes. Sprinkle some oregano over the provolone. Bake and serve.

Also, to use salami as a pizza topping, try this: cut slices of hard salami (Genoa or Cotto) off the roll into slices about the same thickness as, say, the pepperoni you use as a topping. Now cut each slice into 4-6 pieces (I like to make a triangular cut) and use in the same way as you would pepperoni.

Salami Pasta Salad

This is a delicious summer salad that goes together easily, can be made ahead, and is great for a salad bar item. (The only time pasta is rinsed is when it is being used in a cold pasta salad. It is necessary to get some of the starch off the pasta to enhance how it works with the olive oil used as a dressing.)

Yield: about 8 servings (scale up in direct proportion)

10 ounces penne pasta, cooked until al dente and rinsed in cold water, set aside
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons each minced fresh basil and fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon each dried basil and oregano)
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1½ cups cannellini beans
½ cup coarsely chopped fl at-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ Pound hard salami (Genoa or cotto), cubed*
¾ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

In a large mixing bowl, combine the olive, basil, oregano, garlic, beans, parsley. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooked pasta and the salami, toss to combine. Sprinkle in the Parmesan and toss lightly to combine (can be made ahead and kept in the cooler, covered, for up to one day. Just be sure to take it out of the cooler at least 2 hours before serving).

* Instead of using the salami as is, you can arrange cubes of salami on a baking sheet or on parchment paper and crisp it up in the oven. This will give the salad the added texture of crunch. 

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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