"Meating" the Italian "Salumeria"
by Kate Heyhoe
Ciao! September 2002 is Italian Food Month at Kate's Global Kitchen
A good Italian deli (a salumeria in Italy, which means "cured meat shop") can seduce and nearly overwhelm the senses—long batons of garlicky salami; short, plump, smoky sausages; rolls of pepper-encrusted, fat-streaked bacon; rosy slices of aromatic prosciutto; vats of oil- and brine-cured olives; pungent, vinegary salads; and cheeses ranging from wagon wheel-sized rounds to perky little pigs, complete with curled tail and floppy ears.
Italian markets (including alimentari and gastronomia) tantalize the eyes and tempt the nose with their magnificent array of meats, salads, breads, and cheeses. If you don't know what something in the deli case is, then ask for a taste. The shopkeeps know that once you taste, you're bound to buy, so they readily oblige. For those who love tasting menus, a trip to the Italian deli can be sheer heaven.
Go nuts—or pazzo—and try a bit of everything. Antipasto platters are easy to assemble and though they're traditionally served as a prelude to a meal, I've often turned them into the main event itself, either as a casual supper or a party tray for noshing.
Salumi is the comprehensive term for all cured meats, derived from "salare" which means to salt. They can be smoky and sweet or hot and spicy. Cheeses are usually stored cool, so when sampling, keep in mind their flavors will bloom at room temperature or when heated. Salads are a mainstay of the Italian antipasto platter, with such items as pickled vegetables like cauliflower, carrots, and artichoke hearts, cured olives, tomato, pepper and basil salads, and my favorites, squid and octopus salads.
If you're not sure what to get, the guide below identifies some of the salumi items commonly found in true Italian markets:
Bresaola—Air-dried, salted beef, dark and dense, similar to Swiss Bundner Fleisch, that almost melts in your mouth. Usually sliced thin and served with lemon and olive oil.
Cappacola—Spiced, cured pork shoulder. Can be hot with red pepper or sweet and mild, with sugar and white white. Various spellings, including capocollo.
Coppa—A salame of boiled pork, rather than air-cured, and spiced with pepper, nutmeg and orange peel.
Mortadella—This the product on which Oscar Mayer bologna was based, though this is much more than kid stuff. This finely ground pork sausage from Bologna comes in different grades and variations, some studded with pistachios, coriander seeds, or peppercorns and often wonderfully garlicky. Others include a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg. Mortadella is buttery, subtle and well seasoned, but not spicy like salame.
Pancetta—Italian pork belly, similar to bacon but different in that it's not smoked. Pancetta is sold as a slab or rolled into a cylinder and sold in chunks. It's the meat of choice for true Spaghetti alla Carbonara.
Prosciutto Crudo—Most Americans are familiar with this exquisite dry cured ham, served thinly sliced with melon or figs, wrapped around Italian breadsticks (grissini), or tossed into pastas or on pizzas. Prosciutto di Parma is perhaps the most popular, praised for its salty yet flavorful taste. But my favorite is actually Prosciutto de San Daniele, which is a bit sweeter and more delicate in flavor. From the Friuli region, the San Daniele prosciutto is salted for less time than the Parma version, and it's pressed to distribute the fat around the ham. Prosciutto Cotto is cooked ham, similar to our boiled ham.
Soppressa Veneta—From Venice, a pressed, coarse-grained and air-dried pork sausage.
Salame—Dozens of regional variations of "salami" exist, but all are dried meats (pork or beef primarily), coarsely or finely ground with a mix of lean and fat, garlic (usually), pepper, herbs and sometimes wine. They are dried in a heated chamber then moved to cold storage to cure. Spicier salami is made in the south, while northern Italy produces milder versions.
A most satisfying supper can be made from an assortment of salume, fresh-baked Italian bread, some cheeses and a few olives or salads on the side. I've often enjoyed a full week without cooking, just noshing on such prized Italian goodies. But if you are interested in actually cooking up a meal with these ingredients, check out the recipes below for some ideas that taste truly "autentico."
Kate's Global Kitchen for August-September 2002:
08/30/02 More Grilling, All Year Long
09/06/02 "Meating" the Italian "Salumeria"
09/13/02 Cooking Up an Italian Life
09/20/02 Savoring Salt-Packed Anchovies & Capers
09/27/02 The Little Italian Cookbook, Revised
Copyright © 2002, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created August 2002