Leave the Tomato. Take the Peppers.
It’s taken me a while to learn about Italian Delis, but I’m doing my best. If I had spent more of my life in New York or New Jersey, I might be embarrassed by my lack of knowledge on the subject. Instead, I’m more familiar with Cuban cafeterias, Philly cheesesteak parlors, and California taquerias. So I don’t feel too badly for myself.
But here I am now, today, in upstate New York, surrounded by Italian Delis. The Tour de Italian Deli went a long way in my educational efforts. I learned that Italian Mix isn’t a universal combination of ingredients. I learned that “cappy” can really mean a bunch of things. And I learned that Italian sandwiches actually benefit from some time to cure in their wrapper for all of the ingredients to come together.
The last one sounds like bullshit, but it’s true.
I also learned the importance of shredded iceberg over leaf lettuce, and how onions and vinegar are critical ingredients for cutting through some of the fatty and salty meats stuffed into the roll. I even came to realize that “fatty cappy” is the only deli meat worthy of the name.
All of which is to say that I thought I had triangulated my way to my ideal Italian sub. As it turns out, I was wrong again.
There’s another important lesson that learned last week when I went to Pellegrino’s in search of comfort. Last Monday was shitty, and I just wanted to shove my face with meat, cheese, and bread. Screw the diet.
Well, I didn’t entirely abandon the diet. I went with a half sized sub, which still proved to be shockingly large. Here was the order: Half sub with fatty cappy, mortadella, and sharp provolone. Lettuce, tomato, onion, oil, and vinegar.
Part of me at the time was thinking about adding some hot cherry peppers to the mix. But I thought it would be too much. Especially with the fatty cappy, which has some heat to it. Besides, I didn’t want to screw up the delicate balance between the meat, cheese, and vegetables. And I still think that was the right call.
But after taking a first bite, I quickly realized there was something I did wrong.
The more sandwiches I try, the more I come to realize that even though a lot of ingredients are jammed into these subs, for them to be truly excellent, every component has to be working as hard as it can. Each ingredient has an important role to play, and if one element isn’t carrying its weight, the sandwich falls flat.
For example, balsamic vinegar might be great on salads, but you need something with more acidity on a sub. Shredded iceberg may be shunned by the fancy food set, but it works gangbusters for both lightening up a sub and giving it some crunch, but also providing nooks and crannies to hold the oil and vinegar without leaving a completely sodden roll.
Tomatoes should be glorious as part of the mix. But while they are a natural fit, for 11 months out of the year, they are just wet mushy things that add no flavor and an unpleasant mealy texture.
Seriously. When I walked into Pellegrino’s, I overheard someone complaining that he forgot to tell them to leave off the tomatoes. Well, it was either that, or he told them and the sandwich maker included it anyway. Either way, the fellow didn’t want tomatoes, and he had tomatoes.
I was taken aback by how seriously he took the situation. At the time, I thought he was just being a whiner, because it’s easy to take a tomato off. But now I’m starting to understand.
Tomatoes on an Italian sub are a travesty.
This must be where the peppers come in! A nightshade to replace a nightshade. The savvy Italian sub eater must know that to get that juicy burst of flavor, without biting into something moist and mealy, you need a jarred, roasted, or pickled pepper.
It makes so much sense. I’ll have to put this theory to the test. Surely, there’s more to be learned, but we’ll approach each new sandwich as it comes. For now, if anyone has thoughts on sandwich peppers, I’m all ears.