11.30.11 My Baloney
My baloney has a first name. It's Mortadella. I'll bet you already know that baloney is a bastardization of bologna—actually, Bologna, for the city in Italy from whence this delectable pork sausage hails. But are you aware that it's named for the mortar (mortaio) that in conjunction with a pestle was originally responsible for the finely ground meat that forms the basis of this heat-cured salume? (Salume is how Italians refer to charcuterie or, more basely, cold cuts.) I have no love for Oscar Mayer's offspring, and shudder to think what goes into those inspid, rubbery slices. They're barely fit to kiss the hem of the real deal: a rich, dense and savory concoction, flavored with garlic, coriander, nutmeg and sometimes studded with pistachios.
I get my mortadella at Eataly's fabulous salumeria where I can have it cut to order in a thick slab. For some gathering over the next month I may even make this recipe I came across for "Mortadella Smear" in Saveur. Trust me, it surpasses its unfortunate name in every way. Pureed mortadella enriched with a velouté sauce and a little cream, slathered on grilled bread and drizzled with balsamic. What's not to like? This diverges wildly from the mortadella of yore and is more akin to paté whipped up by a lazy Italian contessa.
Mortadella has a fair amount of fat, so it fries up beautifully crisp. You can do thin slices, which are quite nice, almost chip-like, but I prefer chubby little cubes that come out chewy with crunchy edges. The perfect vehicle for them? A fresh escarole salad tossed with tangy anchovy dressing.
Escarole, also known as "broad-leaved endive" (but not called that by anyone you know) is a member of the chicory family, along with puntarelle, radicchio and Belgian endive. It's slightly sweeter than its bitter brethren and is a sadly under-appreciated green. (Here's a recipe for a very simple escarole soup.) Delicious cooked—sauteed with shallots and chile, wilted in garlicky oil—escarole is secretly a salad diva. Served raw, it's gutsy without being aggressive and has gently curled edges that are made for cupping dressing.
We had this salad one night for dinner along with cups of creamy butternut squash soup sprinkled with spicy toasted squash seeds, and it reminded me that I've been meaning to talk to you about something: GARNISHES. The way you finish a dish can make the difference between good and extraordinary. G calls it "kicking it up a notch"—unabashedly ripping off Emeril's catch-phrase—and it's a call to action in the kitchen. You can always make something just that much better with an extra drizzle of spicy green olive oil, sprinkling of coarse sea salt, frizzle of herbs or dollop of crème fraîche.
This is where the notion of condiments comes into play. Homemade chutney, spiced pumpkin seeds, curry salt, fried sage, pickled onions—these have the power to bring your cooking into focus by adding flavor and textural counterpoints. Use your imagination, your creativity and your palate, and have fun gilding the lily.
Escarole Salad with Fried Mortadella
- — 1 head escarole
- — 1 generous cup diced mortadella
- — 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
- — 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
- — juice of 1/2 lemon
- — olive oil
- — coarse sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Make dressing first so it can sit and the flavors will meld as you prepare the salad. Whisk together anchovy paste, garlic and lemon juice in a small bowl or mug. Whisk in olive oil until nicely emulsified. Taste and add a pinch of sugar if needed.
Core escarole, discarding any scraggly outer leaves. Wash leaves and dry well. Tear into large pieces and place in salad bowl.
Heat a skillet and add diced mortadella, frying over medium flame until nicely browned. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
Remove garlic clove from dressing and discard; toss escarole with dressing. Add mortadella, a sprinkling of salt and plenty of pepper and toss again.