Sometimes a person tires of softness and delicacy, woolly socks, logs burning in the fireplace and soft food. Sometimes we don’t seek warmth and consolation. So we suddenly get up and go outside in our rubber boots, stand erect in the searing frostiness of clean, cold wintry air, get drenched to the bone in pouring rain and continue to walk.
All of a sudden, as you confront the bitter wind, life awakens, stretches your muscles, sharpens your nerve endings and fills your head with lucid thoughts. When you stop to rest, you eat what you brought with you a piece of hard cheese, wine aged in a cask, pickled fish, sausage preserved in salt from last summer. Your teeth bite down, chewing is difficult, the taste is sour or salty but you’re happy. There is something about food that has been preserved and hardened and survived a truth and a purity that does not exist in the soft, warm foods that just slide down your throat.
Salami a sausage made from ground pork, beef, chicken, turkey, or even horse, donkey or rabbit meat got its name from the salting process required to preserve it, salare in Italian. The raw meat is ground and mixed with spices, stuffed into a long intestine, lightly smoked or steamed at a low temperature and salted properly so it will keep for a long time without cooling or cooking.
Salami originated in southern Europe, in Italy and Spain, but it also reached Central and Eastern Europe and became a popular way of preserving meat for times when food is scarce. Endless recipes developed, differentiated by the extent of grinding, percentages of fat, types of meat used, the spices, the vinegar and the packaging. In many types, a mixture of pepper and paprika is used to achieve a characteristic color and sharpness.
Take a good chunk of salami wrapped in wax paper, a sharp pen knife and a bottle of red wine and go out by yourself for a hike in the forest on a cold winter day. Try to walk against the wind, feel how the skin on your face hardens and dries out and your fingers stiffen from the cold. Sit on a rock and chew thick slices of the salted sausage. The wine will wash down the salt, the cold air will penetrate your nostrils and your head will fill with clear, correct thoughts.
A Wilensky sandwich
Moe Wilensky opened Moe Wilensky’s Light Lunch in the Jewish Mile End neighborhood of Montreal in 1932. In the 1950s the modest diner moved to its corner location at the top of Fairmont Street. Since then the furniture, menu and most of the clientele hasn’t changed. Although Moe has gone on to a better world, Ruth, his wife – in her tenth decade – still manages the faded, charming counter with a high hand, to the cheers of addicted customers.
People come to Wilensky’s for the special: a sandwich of hot bologna or salami, pressed between two layers of an airy Austrian roll spread with a hefty amount of mustard. Streams of words have been wasted in an attempt to describe the wonderful feeling and the delicacy of taste enjoyed by diners in the small restaurant. In Wilensky’s hot skillet, the simplest sandwich turns into what many have described as the best sandwich in the world, yet nobody has succeeded in quite capturing the feeling in words.
The recipe before us also probably does an injustice to the original sandwich to the roll, the sausage, the heat of the skillet and the skill of the person preparing it. But since Montreal is particularly cold at this time of year, it’s probably better to make do with this. A yellow roll made with egg yolks, high quality salami or bologna, and excellent mustard. Don’t be tempted to add oil the whole story is the fat in the sausage. It’s good for the heart.
For the roll:
1 tbsp. (15 gm.) salt
1 kg. flour
4 tbsp. (60 gm.) white sugar
1 tbsp. (15 gm.) dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup (120 ml.) vegetable oil (corn or canola)
1 egg for brushing the rolls
For the filling:
5 slices of salami or bologna for each roll
Place the salt in a mixing bowl, sift the flour over it, and scatter the sugar and yeast over everything. Pour a cup of warm water into the bowl and begin the mixing process with a dough hook. Add the yolks and oil and let the mixer work at low speed for a minute or two, checking the texture of the dough.
Slowly add additional water until you obtain a uniform dough, very soft but not sticky. Remove from bowl and knead by hand on a floured surface to create a uniform texture that is easy to work with. Form a ball and put it back in the bowl. Cover with cling wrap and put in a warm place for about an hour, until the dough doubles in volume.
When the dough has risen, “deflate” it with your fingers and knead for about a minute to get the air out. Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1.5 centimeters. Using a glass or cookie cutter, cut out 8-10 discs 8 centimeters in diameter. Place on baking paper in a large baking pan, making sure to leave ample room between the rolls. Cover with a large plastic bag or a damp towel for about another half hour of rising.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Brush the tops of the rolls with a beaten egg, being careful to avoid dripping the egg down the sides of the rolls. The egg will give the rolls an attractive color, but dripping it down the sides will make it difficult for them to rise uniformly in the oven.
Bake the rolls in the center of the oven for about 25 minutes, until the top is brown and the rolls are fluffy and airy. Remove from the oven and cool.
To assemble the sandwich:
Arrange five wide slices of salami or bologna in a fan shape, so that each slice overlaps the next and stands out from it a little. Heat a heavy iron skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, place the salami fan on it without oil and sear thoroughly. Flip the fan carefully with a spatula and sear the other side.
Meanwhile, heat a second iron skillet on another burner. Cut the roll in half and spread hot mustard generously on both sides. Place the salami fan in the center of the roll, leaving mustard-covered edges. Close the roll and return to the skillet in which the meat was fried.
Place the bottom of the other preheated skillet on top of the roll to create the effect of a hot, heavy toaster.
Sear the roll well in the fat that has dripped from the salami, flip over once and serve hot, wrapped in wax paper, with a pickle and a glass of cherry soda.
Salami and mushroom tarte tatin
Every time you combine a refined method of preparation with coarse and strongly flavored ingredients, you get a dish that surprisingly suits the Middle Eastern climate. This tart is so tasty that it seems as though the chef gave up once and for all on European refinement and delayed gratification, and put all the ingredients he likes into one skillet, without a backward glance.
This is malaweh-pizza-sausage-cheese-mushroom tarte tatin. Don’t forget a glass of red wine to go with it.
1 tbsp. butter
250 gm. fresh, firm wild or Portobello mushrooms
100 gm. hard Mozzarella or Provolone cheese
50 gm. Parmesan cheese
ground black pepper
15-18 slices of pepperoni, Pick or Cacciatore salami
1/2 kg. butter puff pastry
Heat a heavy 26-centimeter skillet with an oven-proof handle and add the butter. Cut the mushrooms into thick slices and stir-fry in the skillet for two to three minutes, only until they are lightly seared but still firm.
Transfer the mushrooms from the skillet to a large bowl and grate in the Mozzarella and Parmesan. Add the eggs, salt and ground black pepper; mix.
Make small slits around the edges of the salami slices to prevent them from curling up during frying. Lower heat to medium and place the salami slices in the skillet. When the slices are seared on one side, turn them over and pour the mushroom, cheese and egg mixture over them. Lower the flame, cover the skillet and let the mixture solidify slightly for five or so minutes. Remove the lid.
Cut a circle of puff pastry to match the diameter of the skillet. Place the circle on top of the mushrooms, so that the edges of the dough touch the hot skillet. Continue frying for another 2 to 3 minutes, until the sides of the dough begin to brown, and transfer to an oven that has been preheated to 220 degrees. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the dough is crisp and brown.
Flip over the tarte tatin onto a wide plate, so the dough becomes the base and the seared slices of salami adorn the top. Serve immediately with slices of fresh tomato and a glass of Chianti.