Friday, October 9, 2009

A Job on the Italian

Long before people started paying me for reviews, I made up my mind that the best judge of a deli or sandwich shop was their Italian.

I quickly realized a lot of places weren't worth their snuff as sandwich shops.

Warning: This blog is going to lean towards the "rant" end of the spectrum.

Firstly, TURKEY IS NOT ITALIAN. Sooo, all you sandwich shops who are stuffing your Italian grinders, hoagies, sandwiches or subs with turkey - STOP RIGHT NOW. Turkey was almost the National Bird of the United States. It is not domestic to Italy, it doesn't come from Italy.

Now… before anyone goes all, "But the Italian Sub is an American blah blah blah - " I did some history research. (True foodies research. Eat that!)

There are a lot of places that claim origin of Italians and Italian Subs. You can find the stories about them here, here, here, and here. A Google search for "Italian Sub origin" gets even more hits. In fact there's even a great debate on what you put on an Italian Sub here. Enjoy!

So… no turkey.* First rule. A close Second Rule is proper Provolone cheese, or at least a good, semi-hard sliced cheese FROM ITALY. American Provolone, from all I have eaten, is bland and rubbery. Generic "American" cheese is almost as bad, only more like soft chewy silicon. Just. Don't. Do. It.

Third Rule: Kill all Mayo, Mustard or other such condiments. Ick! Oil, or oil and vinegar, mixed with Italian herbs, like oregano and basil. You can throw in cracked red pepper or thyme or parsley. Those are all fine. But that's all you need for a dressing.

Fourth Rule: Italian freaking Meat! Salami ought to be a given - that was the original Italian sub meat in almost all the stories. Another good one is Capicola - hot or sweet. Both are good Italian hams. (Speaking of ham - make it an ITALIAN ham!) Some newer, spicier recipes include pepperoni. I'm all for that too. It's still Italian. Even pastrami, Italian roast beef, works well.

Fifth Rule: Bread. Italian bread should be the obvious choice. And there are plenty of choices there, too.

While the main reasoning of my judgment for a deli is their choice in high quality Italian meats, cheeses, dressing, and bread, toppings can make a big difference, too, but, unless they use "Bread and Butter" pickles (seriously - ew! And totally not Italian!), there is room for a lot of fun. Red onions are almost a given, especially if they are Italian red onions or sweet Italian reds. However, any large white onion with a good balance of "hot" and "sweet" isn't bad. Italian hot peppers are one of my favorites, as well as chopped & pitted olives. Shredded lettuce, preferably Romaine, is good for texture. Tomatoes are also good, because, even though they are native to North America, Italy has entirely embraced them in their food culture.

Now… for fun part (for me). How I Make My Italian.

Get sub-sized rolls from one of the local Italian bakeries. (If you don't have a local Italian bakery, most higher end chain stores' bakeries do decent imitations).

My favorite Italian meats: hot capicola, sweet capicola, peppered Italian ham, Genoa salami… and if I'm feeling really indulgent, prosciutto.

Cheese: Imported Provolone - I taste-test whatever the deli has to get the sharpest & driest. (If your deli is worth its salt, they should let you get a taste of whatever you're buying.)

Dressing: I use my own Italian olive oil, put a few tablespoons in a small glass bowl, add oregano, basil, thyme, fresh cracked black pepper, and cracked red pepper, put it in the microwave for 10 seconds to infuse the oil and bring out the herb's flavors, whisk it well.

Toppings: Shredded Romaine, red onion slices, fresh tomato, Italian hot peppers (pickled).

I drizzle the herbed oil and a few splashes of white Balsamic vinegar over the top, and sit down to enjoy the sandwich.

Is it really so hard, people?

*One of the places where I had turkey included is forgivable because they appropriately named their sandwich an "Italian Club," and a Club Sandwich often includes turkey. Bacon, too. I liked this particular Italian Club, but it should have included bacon because bacon makes things better.


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