A spicy, little salame with a mighty kick.
The sausage is an ancient thing. Once curing was discovered using sea-salt in Sicily, for example, meat could be preserved for longer thus in small portions it was perfect for long travels and impromptu gatherings. To this day the cured sausage, il salame or la salsiccia is whipped out and sliced up volentieri in any social setting, especially one that involves wine.
Salame, wine, bread, and you've got yourselves an Italian party.
Peperoncino is Italian for chili pepper. It becomes confusing when in Italy peperoni are bell peppers and in America, pepperoni is spicy salame which co-incidentally looks just like Italian spicy salame which is called salame piccante, or more affectionally salamino piccante (small, spicy salame).
If you ask for a pepperoni pizza in Italy - unless your waiter is au fait, you'll be brought a red (or green) pepper pizza.
Pepperoni is America's most popular pizza topping. Originally mastered in New York, it was the Italian immigrants who nostalgically fashioned salamino piccante from ground pork and beef to which garlic, pepper, fennel and mustard seed were added. After curing with salt, the sausages were smoked for a few weeks to dry and the recipe has remained such since the early 1900s.
In Italy pork is used to make spicy salame with few key ingredients added. Although the process is similar, Italy is regional and versions are made according to traditional territorial recipes using different cuts of pork, spices and/or smoking times. One of the most well-known is
‘nduja from Calabria. It's a fact in Italy that the spiciest pepperoncini are found in sunny Calabria.
Southern Italy is where the good chilies grow - sucking the sublime, southern sunshine into their skins - here's where you traditionally find the hottest summers and the hottest chilies.
'Nduja is a Vesuvius-level hot, spicy paste, made from fatty pork and the highest concentration of Calabrian chili (25% to be precise) in a sausage, pressed into pork stomach lining (where it gets its name), smoked in aromatic herbs and cured for 3-6 months. 'Nduja can be smeared onto anything really but toasted bruschetta has to be the best, accompanied by a glass of robust red wine.
Another well-known spicy insaccato (the generic word for cured meats) is Spianata Calabra, also from Calabria. This flaming-hot salame is famous for its squashed flat shape and intense orange/colour. It is popular on pizza in Italy, perhaps as much as pepperoni in America, but Spianata Calabra's oval shape is instantly recognisable at the banco della gastronomia as a good spicy option loaded with flavour. Small cubes of lard are added to raw pork mince to make Spianata Calabra, treated with a fine mix of spices and chilies and left for 4 months to mature. Sliced very thinly, you only need 3 or four slices to liven up your pizza in Italy.
One of our favourites, and in fact one we bring over from Italy, is the salamino piccante from Naples. Known simply as salsiccia piccante. Spicy sausage.
This versatile spicy salame can be chopped, minced or sliced and we just love it on a tagliere on pizza and in our Lasagna Piccante. Where 'nduja is spread and spianata is sliced thinly, salamino piccante can be sliced thick or chopped into rich tomato sauce and layered between fresh pasta sheets with mozzarella to be baked in the oven.
We always have this in our fridge, it lasts for months and brings a kick of Italy with every mouthful. Smoky, tasty and cured perfectly - if you can get your hands on a ' small spicy sausage' from Naples where the sunshine beams is as hot as the chilies, bring some warm focaccia to the table and a bottle of Barolo.
The rest is simply bliss.