Tuesday, February 1, 2011

ingredient: MORTADELLA

Please don’t call it bologna.

Because while American Oscar Myer-style lunch box sandwich “boloney” is admittedly a distant cousin of authentic mortadella, they’re actually about as similar as J-Woww and Sofia Loren. I mean you just don’t know where the American version has been.

Real mortadella is a type of cured meat which falls under the umbrella of salume (not to be confused with salami). What sets mortadella apart from other Italian pork sausages like salami, salsiccia, prosciutto, and bresaola is its smooth, pink texture and large cubes of juicy fat. Yes, mortadella is pork meat purposely injected with fat. Yet a slice of mortadella doesn’t taste fatty; it tastes porky and a little nutty. How do they do it? The key is probably that mortadella isn’t injected with just any fat; this is an Italian specialty we’re talking about after all. There are rules, and these rules stipulate that fifteen percent of any log of mortadella must be cubes of “prime neck fat" from pigs.

The idea to season pork meat with neck fat started with the excess all-stars: the Romans. In fact mortadella was named after the way this salume was made in Roman times, which was by grinding up pork meat with a mortar (mortario) before stuffing it into a pork casing. When the empire fell, the process was taken over by the pork capital of the world, Bologna, which is how the bastardized American version got its name.

The basic recipe for mortadella is the same. Grind up pork meat (though probably no longer with an actual mortar) then add pork fat and spices such as anise, pepper, or coriander. Pistachios are a common addition, as is some wine. Then the seasoned meat is stuffed into a pork or beef casing (read: cleaned intestinal lining), gently cooked, cooled, and sliced for sammies.

Today Bologna holds a D.O.C for Mortadella di Bologna, but you’ll find variations on the theme all over Italy. For example, Tuscans add garlic and some towns use olives. Mortadella di Amatrice is a famous version from a town in the Apennine Mountains which uses cloves and cinnamon. Each variation of mortadella promises a smooth, porky flavor with the subtlest hints of spice. Italians eat mortadella plain, on sandwiches, or possibly adorning a plate of antipasti. The genius people of Bologna even stuff it in tortellini.

You know what this means don’t you? Mortadella tour 2011. Who’s with me?

Pizza Rustica
Adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess

As you can see, this is not a pizza in any corner-slice or even Domino's sense of the word. There’s no tomato sauce. It's got two crusts. So what is it then? Pizza Rustica is essentially a large meat and cheese pie. It's traditionally eaten around Easter time in Italy, which makes sense because there is a bit of assembly required and this dish definitely feeds a crowd.

This recipe appealed to me for many reasons. The first was that I love pie crust. Hell, I love pies, be they sweet, savory, hot, or cold. Give me pies or give me death!

Second to my love of pies is my love of anything that you can make in one big pan and know that it will serve a crowd. Or in this case, 6-8 people. The third appeal was the list of ingredients: anything that has mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, and ricotta cheeses, in addition to prosciutto, mortadella and sausage sounds good to me.


1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
½ cup cold (cold is very important) unsalted butter cut into cubes
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons iced water
1 heaped teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar

1 8 inch spring form pan buttered (a deep dish pie dish will work)


2 ounces luganega or mild pure pork sausage, skinned
1 tablespoon olive oil
“generous” 8 ounces ricotta
2 ounces provolone, diced
4 ounces Italian mozzarella, diced
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp crushed dried red chillies, or more to taste
4 ounces prosciutto, diced
4 ounces mortadella, diced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs


1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
Pinch of salt


To make the crust:

Put the flour, butter, and sugar in a food processor. Pulse to combine, but just until it comes together, probably about 10 pulses. Pour in the egg yolks, water, and salt into the food processor. Pulse until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, about another 10 or 15 more pulses. Take the dough out and wrap it in some plastic wrap and stick it in your fridge.

Make the filling:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a small saucepan, fry the sausage in the olive oil until its just cooked through, about four minutes. Transfer it to a large bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients for the filling to the bowl and mix well.

Take the crust out of the fridge and cut it into two pieces, with one piece slightly bigger than the other.

Roll out the bigger piece of dough. Transfer it to your springform pan so it comes up and hangs over the side. Pour in the filling.

Roll out the other piece of dough and then transfer it to the top of the pie, where it will act as the lid. Crimp together the two pieces of dough to make sure nothing oozes out.

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk, salt, and milk to make the egg wash. Brush the wash over the top of the pie. Use a fork to poke a few holes in the top of the pie so that steam can escape.

Bake the pie at 400 for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350 and bake for another 45 minutes.

When it’s done, the top should be a nice golden brown. Nigella says to let the pie rest for 25 minutes before serving, and there is something about letting it rest that helps meld all the flavors. In fact, if you’re having this at a dinner party there is no reason not to make it the night before. And while I like it cold as well, there is something about the way the cheeses all goo when it’s hot that I just can’t pass up. So I serve this hot, with a side salad, and a cold beer.

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