Jim Hillibish: Don’t be afraid of ‘death’ meat

Jim Hillibish

Mortadella is the pride of Bologna, Italy, a noble sausage that graces many a sandwich tucked under pickled peppers and slices of Provolone cheese.

Very little is sold in the United States. It suffers a reputation of being extremely fatty. You can see the pig fat, the white chunks suspended in the ground pork.

Its reputation is undeserved. A slice has about the same fat content as an equal amount of dark-meat chicken.

Death?

The name doesn’t help with the marketing. Mortadella translates to “of death” in English. One wonders why they didn’t stay with bologna. Our common American bologna is similar to mortadella, except the fat is emulsified in the grinding process and invisible until you fry a piece.

Perhaps the main roadblock is price. Our bologna costs about $3.50 a pound. Mortadella can command three times that. This is why it’s often sold by the slice.

It has a very short lifespan after slicing. The rule is to buy only what you need for your recipe and use it immediately.

Best Uses

The result is, mortadella rarely is consumed in sandwiches hereabouts. It stars on anti-pasta trays in small cubes. A little goes a long way.

Its fans enjoy a number of styles. White pistachios, garlic in olive oil or white cheese can replace the lardons of fat. The fat is still there, but ground into the meat.

Spicing ranges from our typical bologna flavor to Italian herbs and fennel.

One of my favorite recipes is an appetizer. Mix a cubed slice with 8 ounces of cream cheese and a tablespoon of sour cream in a blender. Serve on grilled squares of Italian bread or as the typically American chip dip.

It’s a tasty filling for ravioli, served with a cream sauce, although you’ll have to make your own here.

If you can afford the sticker shock, mortadella can be a worthy addition to your next authentically Italian meal. Forget the name. Call it Italian bologna already.

MORTADELLA FRITTA

1 thick slice mortadella, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1-2 sweet banana peppers, seeded and sliced

1/4 cup red onion or shallots

1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced

1 medium tomato, sliced

3 large eggs

3-4 slices Romano or Provolone cheese

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon basil or tarragon

Salt and pepper

Italian flat-leaf parsley

Oil a medium frying pan. Lightly sauté the mortadella in the peppers, mushrooms and onion. Add the egg mixture, spreading it evenly with a spatula. Cook over medium-low heat until the eggs just set. Top with tomato and cheese slices dust with Parmesan and the basil. Run under the broiler to melt the cheese. Slice into wedges, garnish with parsley and serve with grilled garlic bread. Serves 2.

Canton Repository