Last night The Cake Dealer put together the most incredible sandwich I’ve ever eaten in my life. A successful combination of Vietnamese and Italian cuisines – a “Vietalian” banh mi sandwich that she called the “Banh Mia” sandwich.
Mortadella, prosciutto, pickled carrots, pickled daikon, fresh cucumbers, cilantro, mayo, maggi sauce, sri racha sauce, and nduja on a baguette. If this isn’t a thing, it will be soon – mark my words. She would have lines down the block if she opened up a sub shop with these.
I was pushing for Italian bread to make the circle complete, but the French baguette is a very important part of Vietnamese banh mi, so it had to stay.
We had actually seen something similar before, in Philly, but more along the sausage route.
Although we didn’t try that sausage and pepper banh mi, I think my wife’s is better and actually makes more sense as fusion cuisine for the following reasons: (1) the mortadella is similar to the bologna and head cheese; (2) the prosciutto is similar to the ham, and (3) the nduja is similar to the pate – which are all used in the classic, traditional Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches.
A recent trip to Italy renewed my interest in, and appreciation for, all things “sliced meaty.” I thought I’d seize the opportunity, capitalize on my rekindled passion for this delicious shit, and dive a fuckload deeper into the various types of salumi with a detailed-as-balls educational post for you assholes.
Check it out you savages. This was an actual street name in Trastevere, Rome:
In case you’re a complete dunce, that means “Street of Salumi.” I like to call it Meat Street, if you will, which is where I’m about to take your ass right now.
So just what exactly is salumi? Generally, it’s any food product made from pig meat (usually), especially cured meats, such as salami. That’s not super explicit, and some salumi even involve beef, but essentially we’re talking Italian pork-based “cold cuts” here.
One thing we all love is prosciutto. Prosciutto is a TRUE salume (singular of salumi), meaning it’s a whole cut of animal, usually a leg or shoulder. A leg gets hung to cure, and later it is sliced and eaten.
Then there are items that involve ground meat, like salami and salsicce (sausage). Salami are smoked, air dried or salted, and then left to age. Salsicce is either raw or cooked slightly, and is a kind of salame (singular of salami).
Okay so salumi, salami: is that like potayto, potahto? Nope. Salumi is more of an umbrella term. All salami are salumi, but not all salumi are salami. Get it? Of course you don’t, because it’s fucking confusing. You had to go back and read that twice, didn’t you? I did. Maybe a Venn Diagram will help illustrate the point better:
Okay so let’s ignore the umbrella salumi term, since it’s kind of useless for our purposes here. I’m going to give you some info about the two major types of Italian meats: true salumi and salami.
As mentioned earlier, these are cured meats that have been made from a whole cut of animal, usually a leg/thigh or shoulder.
Prosciutto is a dry-cured leg o’ pig, and is probably the most common salume. These legs actually hang in Italian salumeria shops like decorations. It’s amazing.
Prosciutto crudo is the uncooked version, while prosciutto cotto is the cooked version.
For crudos, you’ll often see differences in the aging time based on the regions in Italy from which the ham hails. For example, Prosciutto di Parma is usually aged about 10-12 months, while San Daniele is 15-18 months. Some regions will age their hams longer, like 24 months, to impart different flavors, increase sweetness levels, etc.
As for prosciutto cotto, think of it like a traditional cooked ham.
Speck is a type of prosciutto that’s smoked (as well as dry-salted and aged), so it has a stronger, more unique flavor.
This salume is usually lightly seasoned with garlic, herbs, spices and wine, but the execution differs by region. The meat is then salted, stuffed into a natural casing, and hung for up to six months to cure. The meat itself is whole muscle from the neck and shoulder areas, so it is a salume despite being stuffed into a casing.
Fun side note: You may have seen capocollo spelled coppa, capicollo, capicola or capicolla. It’s even referred to as “gaba-gool” by NY/NJ area Italians and the show The Sopranos (or in this case, MadTV):
This is Italian pork belly (bacon). It’s usually cured and sometimes spiced. They slice it thin and eat it like cold cuts over in Italy. While technically not the same, you will often see pancetta swapped out with guanciale (pork cheek) or lardo (pure fat) in many Italian dishes that traditionally call for pancetta.
Bresaola is a cured, lean cut of beef, often times filet mignon.
You can see it here in my wife’s video from a salumi shop in Rome called La Prosciutteria, which I refer to as fucking heaven. There are a few selections of bresaola across the top right, immediately as the video begins:
While this may not necessarily be a salume, it is very often found in Salumeria shops throughout Italy. With that said, and the fact that this shit is delicious as fuck, I figured I’d mention it here.
Porchetta is a savory, fatty, and moist “pork roll.” It’s essentially a boneless pork roast whereby the pig is gutted, de-boned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, then rolled, wrapped in skin, and spit-roasted over a flame. Stuffing usually includes rosemary, fennel, garlic and other herbs, and porchetta is usually heavily salted.
It is typically served hot, cut thick, and eaten like a main course dish with a fork and knife. However it’s also common to see it sliced thinly after cooling. It’s then put into sandwiches or served on wooden meat board platters like the other salumi discussed above.
Okay, so a recap: Salami are ground meat, encased products that are smoked, air dried or salted, and then left to age.
If you’ve ever eaten an Italian hero, you’ve eaten some of these meats. Ingredients and parts can vary. In some cases you may even see non-pig versions, like venison or elk. In Venice, I even saw horse salami:
Salami varies greatly by region. In some areas of Italy, the meat is finely ground with tiny flecks of fat visible.
Other regions use a more coarse grind, use larger chunks of fat, or add spices and herbs.
My favorite varieties are the ones in which truffles are added.
The pepperoncino pepper is a mildly spicy variety of chili pepper. That pepper is what makes a salame “piccante” (spicy), as it is mixed up into the grind when making salami piccante. In the US, salami piccante is typically called “pepperoni.” However, in Italian, the word “pepperoni” actually means “bell peppers.”
Soppressata also varies by region and exists in different sizes and shapes, but the spice level and red coloring are both universal traits. It is almost always more coarsely ground than salami.
All that said, one can still find varieties of soppressata that aren’t quite as “hot.” While these pictures show a thinner chub, the most common forms I have seen were thicker, like three or four inches in diameter (like a giant’s penis).
This delicious shit generally comes from southern Italy. It’s an aged, spicy, spreadable salami “paste” that’s made from various parts of a pig. The spice levels are pretty hot in this product, and since it’s so soft, it is often spread onto bread like butter, or thrown into tomato-based sauces to kick them up a little bit.
This might be my favorite of the lot, and that’s a bonus for me, because it is usually the cheapest to buy in stores. The meat itself is similar to bologna in texture (in fact it IS bologna, since it hails from the town of Bologna). It’s extra finely ground (almost like it was processed by machine) heat-cured pork, which incorporates small cubes of pork lard.
I think mortadella is more smooth and soft than standard bologna here in the US, and it has a real porky flavor. Sometimes truffles, pistachios, olives and garlic are added for flavoring as well. Those are the best kinds. Also, lots of times these meats are formed into HUGE logs that are upwards of a foot in diameter.
Sausage party! The main difference here is mainly that, most times, salsicce is raw, uncured, or un-aged and needs to be cooked prior to eating. But some sausages are smoked and, thus, can be eaten as-is (like a hot dog or kielbasa).
So that about covers most of the common types of salumi you’ll see out there. I hope this information was helpful. If it wasn’t, then I should add that I don’t really give a fuck. Either way, go forth and eat this delicious meat. It will make you happy.
For less than $79, my wife and I scored this Groupon deal for Bocca, which gave us $120 to spend. In reality we probably paid about $68 for the Groupon, since we almost never buy them unless there is an additional discount code.
Anyway this Italian joint had some pretty interesting items on the menu. Here’s what we ordered:
This shit was really fresh and clean. It was a great way to start this incredible meal.
Grilled Octopus Crostini with Chorizo, Kalamata Olives and Chic Peas
The octopus was perfectly cooked, and when I took a bite with a little bit of everything together, the flavors really exploded. Such an awesome Mediterranean dish.
Strozzapreti with Nduja
This was amazing. If you don’t know what nduja is, its a spicy, fatty and spreadable sausage product that lots of people eat with bread in southern Italy. Here, however, the geniuses rendered it down with tomatoes into a decadent sauce. Highly recommended.
Cacio e Pepe (Spaghetti alla Chitarra in Pepper and Cheese Sauce)
This was prepared table-side, and was absolutely delicious.
It’s a really simple dish, but sometimes that’s all you need for a winning food item. It’s no wonder this dish is all the rage in NYC.
Hanger Steak with Mushrooms
This fucker was awesome. Seriously. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and the selection of wild mushrooms (I think Hen of the Woods and Porcini) really brought out the earthy flavors of the beef, which happened to be black angus from Creekstone Farm. 9/10.
Another thing worth mentioning is this great beer they serve.
This is right in my wheelhouse, since it’s an unfiltered, super bubbly Belgian farmhouse wheat beer.
Meet Giuseppe Viterale, a meat man after my own heart.
After putting his architecture career to the side, Giuseppe came to the US from Italy, sight unseen. He diligently worked his way up through the restaurant industry, all the way from bus boy, to waiter, to manager, and, eventually, to owner of his own restaurant, Ornella, which is romantically named after his wife of 25 years and staffed with his sons.
But that’s not where it ends. Giuseppe owns a pig farm in the Catskills where he spends lots of time working on and perfecting new recipes, and curing his own meats. SAY WHAT!?!??
For the last few years, he’s been making his own prosciutto, fresh sausages, cured sausages, nduja sausages and other delicious meat items that end up on the seasonal and special menus at Ornella. As you can imagine, the result is a restaurant that is very meat-centric, fresh, dynamic and locally sourced. Shit, he even has a pretty impressive steak menu and hosts a steak night on Mondays for $15… FIFTEEN DOLLARS!!!
But this isn’t just a place for meat eaters either. There’s a sizable vegetarian selection, and the menu boasts an array of authentic Italian dishes. There’s even some unique items like duck meatballs and sanguinaccio (a chocolate blood pudding dessert), inventive sauces like pistachio pesto sauce and orange brandy sauce, and interesting pasta dishes made from hemp, buckwheat and chestnut flour – all made fresh in house.
They’ve even recently added a pizza selection for the delivery menu:
The joint has even been featured on ABC’s Eyewitness News:
My wife and I stopped in for a complimentary press dinner after Giuseppe reached out to me and let me know about his gem of a restaurant in Astoria.
Giuseppe has an incredibly magnetic personality. He is overflowing with information and a desire to impart his knowledge of food history, his food philosophy and his ideas about food culture onto everyone around him. He has actually even considered hosting classes for this very reason. But what exactly is his philosophy? That food, what we eat, how we eat it, and the quality and history of our dishes, is central to everything; our humanity, our health and well being, our economy, our interpersonal relations, and our understanding of one another. And he’s right. The kitchen is the center of any home. The table is where we congregate as a family and actually interact with one another. In a living room, we simply stare at the television. All peoples with rich cultures have rich food cultures, he explained. One thing that crosses cultural, visual, and audio-linguistic barriers is our common need and desire for food. Food brings people together.
Another interesting aspect of Giuseppe’s philosophy was what he referred to as “slow food.” With everything becoming expensive and factory-commercialized, with the proliferation of fast food joints and instant gratification meals, he was drawn to start making his own products and spend real time making dishes as opposed to just buying products and preparing them for diners. This is how the pig farm started. Giuseppe found that he could either buy nduja sausage for $80, which wasn’t that good to begin with and was very difficult to find in the form he wanted due to embargoes and other impediments, or he could make his own and control every aspect of the flavor, just how he wanted. He explained that he could actually verify where an animal came from and what it ate while living, unlike what is happening now with “prosciutto di Parma.” He could ensure the quality, the spice level, and the firmness or texture of whatever he was making. He could take different parts of the animal and cook them each in their correct way in order to utilize the entirety of the animal without wasting the undesirable parts. So many places only cook the items that are quick and easy to move off the line in a kitchen. “Slow food” is more respectful to the product and the environment, he explained.
His passion and respect for food shines through his dishes, as does his inviting, innovative and creative personality. He has applied his background in architecture to his food endeavors. “In order to have a strong building, you first need to build a good foundation,” he said. Quality ingredients, strong, basic cooking techniques… “Then you can build up, you can build flavors.” Well if cooking is architecture, then Giuseppe is Frank Lloyd Wright, and his food is the Guggenheim. Not only is he great with the foundations, but he is wildly creative as he builds up from there.
Here’s what we tried:
First there were the massively poured goblet of Montepulciano wine. Very smooth yet robust and flavorful. A perfect red for meat eating. I had read about the large glasses of wine served here online. This was a treat, and they certainly live up to their reputation of BIG wine pours.
The bread was a nice rustic style, crisp and flakey on the crust and soft and savory on the inside.
Giuseppe sat with us and explained the two different types of sausages we were about to try, both of which were homemade at the farm upstate.
First was the nduja, which is a Calabrian-originated product that is somewhat similar to French andouille, only soft like a pate, as well as spicy. It was spread across a nice slice of farm house bread. The main ingredients are pork belly and red peppers. Simple and delicious.
I’ve never had anything like this before, where it can be spread across bread like butter or pate. It was absolutely amazing. The spice level was mild to medium, so it didn’t ruin your taste buds for the rest of the meal.
Next was the hard, dried sausage. This was aged and cured perfectly. It would make for a really amazing thin-sliced charcuterie plate, but it is equally great to just gnaw on like jerky. It had a wonderful natural flavor. You knew you were eating something that was made with care.
We had the pleasure of trying the famous duck meatballs for our appetizer. In the center was a blend of mild cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta, so as not to take away any attention from the duck.
The orange brandy sauce was a classic pairing with the duck, yet presented in an innovative Italian way in the form of a meatball. Those are raisins you see garnishing the plate as well.
Next up was probably my favorite of the savory courses. Pork chop, pounded flat, lightly breaded and fried, and rolled up / stuffed with mushroom, spinach and cheese, dressed in a marsala wine sauce with mushrooms and served with absolutely perfectly executed cavatelli.
Cavatelli is my favorite kind of pasta, so for me to rave about it here means a little something extra. I loved it – every last bite.
Next was some “slow food” braised beef short rib, on the bone, and served with gnocchi. This was topped with a reduction of the braising liquids, which was essentially carrots, celery, onion and a little bit of tomato.
Despite the fact that I am not a huge fan of gnocchi to begin with (too starchy and often gummy for me), I really did enjoy this dish. The beef was tender and fell off the bone, and the sauce was impressive. When I heard “reduction of the braising liquid” I was expecting something very salty. This was actually kind of light for a beef sauce. Impressive.
Last, but certainly not least, was the absolute star of the show for both my wife and I. You can’t get it anywhere else in the world, as a matter of fact. Only in Astoria at this small restaurant. This is the sanguinaccio. It is a raviolo made from a mixture of chestnut and regular flour, fried up like an empanada but stuffed with a 50/50 mixture of pigs blood and chocolate, to make a blood pudding that’s been spiced with cinnamon, clove, orange peel and sugar. If I had to guess, 90% of people would cringe at the description of this, but all you need to do is take one fucking bite and you will have your entire world turned on its head.
This is definitely a bucket dish: a dish to put on your bucket list, something you must try before you die. And I’m not the only one who thinks this way. This dish (as well as another made by Giuseppe), was featured in the book “1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die,” written by famous New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton.
I really can’t say enough good things about that dessert. It was amazing, and I’m generally not a sweets guy, and certainly not a chocolate guy. I’ve never seen blood served in a dessert manner. I’d had my fair share of blood sausages, congealed blood cubes like gelatin in asian soups, etc. But never like this in dessert. Amazing. I’ll definitely be back here soon, and I hope you make your way there as well. Go and experience this rare dish, and fall in love with all the other great innovations that Giuseppe has to offer. He’s truly a talented man.
29-17 23rd Ave.
Astoria, NY 11105