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.
this is not your childhood bologna
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.
At this gastronomically obsessed point in the 21st century, few of us think of food as simply sustenance. Do you eat for pleasure? For energy? For nutrition? Hopefully, these are all factors you consider. What about food as medicine? Some of my best friend are doctors (no, really) and I can see them rolling their eyes already. Look, I afford Western medicine its due; I see my internist and gynecologist for regular check-ups. But they often don't/can't give me the sort of fine-tuning I get from my nutritionist or my cranial-sacral therapist. And, to be perfectly frank, after watching my father, my mother and my husband (before G) die slow and agonizing deaths—all three in the care of very good doctors—I'm just not much of a believer in sticking to that one path. I think what we put in our bodies can have a huge impact (positive and negative) on our health. So I was so happy when my good friend Stephanie, who has recently suffered some painful gallstone attacks, decided to try to avoid the surgery that was immediately prescribed. I was even more thrilled when she went to see Sally Kravich
, my wonderful nutritionist, to see how she could manage this condition with diet. And I was flattered when she asked me for some soup recipes to help get her through this period without feeling too deprived.