One of the things I most often enjoy when eating out, especially for lunch, is the classic Italian deli sandwich. Thing is, there are a lot of really bad deli sandwiches out there. So over the years I've thought about what I dislike about bad deli sandwiches, but it's a lot more fun, and more worthwhile, to think about what I like. And that meditation led, over the years, to the sandwich in the photo above.
- Bread. It's got to be good. Blah bread fresh from the oven smells good when you walk into the shop, but I like bread with some texture, some bite, some character. I've determined that my favorite is the Italian classic called ciabatta. Typically baked in a flat rectangle, dusted with flour, it has a springy, chewy inside and a firm crust. Better yet, if you lightly brush the bread with a good extra-virgin olive oil before toasting it somewhat, the sandwich will stand up to what you put on it.
- Meats. Notice the plural. Yeah, there's a certain purity to a really great pastrami on corn rye, with nothing on it but some hot mustard; but if you're talking Italian sandwiches, you need at least two meats, preferably three. I'm hooked on coppa at the moment; it's a dry-cured pork product, often rolled in powdered red pepper for a little extra bite. Genoa salami is my favorite, with a sour, salty tang and a nice texture. And something like mortadella is good for a base, though sliced cooked ham isn't bad either.
- Cheese. Provolone is good; asiago is slightly better (but I just had it yesterday). Basically, milder meats need stronger cheese, and vice-versa.
- Garnish, relish, or some kind of dressing. A little tangy mustard (on the meat side, please) is good, but I like something more like a tapenade (a French spread with chopped olives, peppers and vinegar). Lately I've been mixing roasted peppers with Kalamata olives and whole-grain Dijon; I might try adding capers, chopped artichoke hearts, and other salty, tangy vegetable products.
- Crisp lettuce in a zesty dressing. I like romaine for its crunch and its body, but a mache blend adds a bit more flavor. In a pinch, use shredded iceberg; just be sure to up the balsamic vinegar, and maybe some fresh herbs, to counteract the blandness of the lettuce.
And that's how we ended up with the sandwich shown here, lunch for Kim and me on Tuesday of the Week Of Eating In. We split it and each ate half; frankly, we could have shared it with two more people, with a nice salad or some crunchy pickled Italian giardiniera vegetables. On the other hand, this exquisite work of culinary art cost about $7 to make lunch for two people. Can't complain.
If you really want to get a sense for how to make this, check out the Flickr set for step-by-step instructions, with illustrations.