“I have the tastebuds of an old Italian man who likes to play cards,” I said to my beloved.
“What’s wrong with that?” he shrugged as he bit into a soft, but sharp piece of Crotonese cheese. Isn’t it amazing when someone just gets you?
I had just returned from giving a tour of the Arthur Avenue Italian food stores to a group of visitors from the U.K. Along the way, I picked up a few things for my own Friday night dinner: The aforementioned Crotonese cheese made with a mixture of goat and sheep’s milk, a loaf of sesame seeded bread, oil cured olives, and a log of house made hot sopressata. Give me a glass of wine, a deck of cards and throw some Pavarotti on the record player and I’m basically my grandfather, a Calabrian man who would have turned 106 today. (His father lived to be 106 so it’s not really such an outlandish thought.)
When we were kids, my brother and I referred to sopressata, a type of dry-cured salame, as “supersize.” Like most Southern Italian sausages, it’s usually made with raw pork. The intense Calabrian red pepper is the preservative that keeps it safe in the warm southern climate. Preparing it is often a family affair. The pork is chopped coarsely, then rolled out onto a large table and seasoned with the red pepper flakes, garlic, and sometimes a bit of wine or grappa. Its name comes from the act of pressing it in between two planks of wood, producing a somewhat flattened look.
During the 16th century, Spaniards brought peppers to Southern Italy from the New World along with tomatoes. We all know that they both took off like gangbusters. Calabrians eat peperoncini with everything and are the only Italians seemingly able to handle the heat. After my Grandfather passed away, my Grandmother (who was not Calabrian) continued to grow them in the garden to keep away the rabbits. The rule of thumb is the smaller they are, the hotter they are. Calabrians like to tie them together with string and display them while they dry as well keep away the devil. (Or so they say.) I buy my Calabrian red pepper flakes at Buon Italia in Chelsea Market and use them anywhere I want a little heat.
While there are lots of recipes for making sopressata online, it would probably be easier (and smarter) to take a trip to the Bronx to buy it at Biancardi’s. Their version is round, not flattened, but also available sweet for those who can’t face the Calabrian heat. Across the street at Zero, Otto, Nove, they use only Biancardi’s sopressata for their phenomenal pizza diavola.
I’ll enjoy the rest of my sopressata sliced thinly on pizza. (The butchers at Biancardi’s also recommend freezing it.) Then I’ll set a lawn chair out on the sidewalk, drink Sambuca from a water glass, and talk about hitting the numbers.
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