Salumi antipasti–learn all about it.
Time for a crash course in the latest old world/cool new food trend just off the boat and available pretty much everywhere you shop or eat. The word is salumi. It’s Italian for cured meats and a simple answer to several dining dilemmas like: What to serve before the lasagna? What else to set out for the game besides cheese cubes and prepared guac? What can I make for a late, light meal and bottle of red with my honey? What to bring to supper club? What can I put in this sub sandwich besides bologny? What can solid B-listers (like us) feed our stylish, occasional A-list drop-bys? What’s the best way to put on the feed bag and settle in with Tony, some “gobba-gool” and the new complete box set of The Sopranos?
A cured meat movement seems inevitable now, especially after our various love affairs with locally baked artisanal breads and cheeses, hand-crafted micro-brewed beers, and heirloom tomatoes. Not that long ago the supermarket delis in Nashville meant layered stacks of pre-sliced ham, turkey, and roast beef accompanied by confetti Jell-O and pimiento cheese in tubs. What a difference a decade makes. Today, the Publix and Kroger delis showcase a handsome lineup of cured meats and aged cheeses by Boar’s Head Provisions. Harris Teeter features similar selections by Dietz and Watson. And for those in a bulk-buying mood, wholesale clubs offer whole dry salamis and convenient sliced Italian meat variety packs to keep ready in the fridge. These are especially handy for entertaining on the fly.
All of us cheater chefs can get in on the salumi movement at home with just a trip to the grocery store–artisanal breads, cool crackers, fancy cheeses, olives, toasted nuts, roasted peppers, and fresh seasonal fruits like melon, figs, grapes—they have it all (everything but the wine!). Even better, there’s no cooking involved, just great presentation. Just lay it out artfully on a board or a good-looking platter. The hardest part is editing the selection so each element matters and complements the whole. You don’t need every kind of salumi. One, two, or three varieties are plenty. You may not even want cheese. A simple plate of sliced hard salami and olives is super-sophisticated.
When do we serve this? Think first course to an Italian dinner, a fancier snack platter than the usual deli tray of rolled cold cuts and cheese cubes, heavy hors d’oeuvres with cocktails and wine, a great easy dish to take to a party, or little treat with a glass of wine and a friend for a light grazing dinner. For a more expansive review check out Salumi: Savory Recipes and Serving Ideas for Salame, Proscuitto, and More by Joyce Goldstein (Chronicle Books, 2008).
Salumi Cheat Sheet It’s cool to ask the deli counter for a taste before committing and always request paper-thin slices. Serve a Cheater Chef salumi platter with a variety of meats, olives, cheeses, and crusty bread.
Italian pork bologna. The meat is mild, fragrant, and pink with visible patches of white fat almost like big polka dots. Mortadella sometimes includes some pistachio nuts as well.
Made with pork and/or beef and is usually milder and softer than the hard cured salamis.
(Soppressatta)— A versatile pork and/or beef sausage that comes in all sizes. It’s made with coarsely ground meat, fat, and plenty of seasonings. Think of it as Italian jerky. A little bite of the hard cured varieties gives a great chew and lots of lasting flavor. There are plenty of dry-cured Italian sausages, including pepperoni.
The grande dame of Italian meats. The ham is pressed, seasoned, salt cured, and air-dried, but never smoked. It has a distinctive sweet-salty character and silky texture. It’s classic with served with melon. Try it with figs or fresh peach slices.
(Cappo, Capicollo)—Cured pork shoulder made like prosciutto, but is darker with a firmer texture. Can be sweet or spicy hot.
Cured smoked ham, like prosciutto, but with a delicate smoky flavor.
Dry cured beef almost like beef prosciutto. Often served with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice.
Italian cured bacon made without smoking. This one is not for a salumi platter until it’s cooked. Get it sliced about ¼-inch thick. Dice the meat and fry like bacon. Use in pasta and on salads.