Italian cooking uses a wide variety of ingredients, mixing an array of spices and flavors together. Many dishes include salumi, which is a term for Italy’s large selection of cured meat. They are available sweet, salty and spicy, depending on what you’re craving. To help you add some flair to your cooking, here’s what you need to know about Italian meats.
THE CURING PROCESS
Most Italian meats are cured, meaning they are not cooked, but rather, they are preserved in one of three methods–salting, smoking or air-drying. All of these methods help to draw moisture out of the meat and prevent bacteria from growing and spoiling the meat.
Salting or air-drying meat helps to enhance concentrated flavors and draw out moisture. In addition, it dehydrates microbes that cause meat to go bad and stops their ability to multiply. By drawing out most of the moisture with salt, the resulting meat gains a saltier flavor. That’s why it’s important to always remember to taste test your cured meat for saltiness before adding additional salt when cooking with it.
Smoking meat works in a similar way to salting. When the meat is placed in a smoker, the moisture is drawn out and the smoke acts as an acidic layer on the meat, preventing bacteria from growing and causing meat to go bad. The end result is a fully-cooked piece of meat with a smoky flavor. You can learn more about the two different types of smoking–cold and hot–here.
DELICIOUS ITALIAN MEATBALLS
Perhaps one of the most popular Italian meats in the U.S. are meatballs. They are usually made with a mixture of beef and pork, but some recipes also call for veal. You can also add breadcrumbs or small chunks of bread for a lighter texture. Each morning, our meatballs are hand-rolled, made according to our grandfather’s recipe with authentic Italian spices and freshly ground beef and pork.
So how can you enjoy Italian meatballs? It’s well-known that meatballs go great with spaghetti, but they also are the perfect addition to pizza(try our Molto Carne), or on an Italian roll with melted cheese and marinara sauce (like our Polpetta Parmigiana) You can even crumble up your meatballs and add them to a homemade marinara sauce.
ITALIAN CHICKEN DISHES
In addition to beef and pork, chicken is a part of several Italian dishes. It can be the star of the meal, like chicken parmesan, chicken marsala or chicken piccata. It is also delicious added to dishes, like pasta alfredo or in on top of a salad.
Chicken also makes a tasty pizza topping. If you love chicken and sun-dried tomatoes, try our Pizza di Mora, made with a mouth-watering combination of olive oil, mozzarella, asiago, chicken, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. You can also try it on our Pizza Cristofori, made with pesto, mozzarella, chicken and artichoke hearts.
If you’re looking for a smaller, but still delicious, portion, chicken also tastes great added to any of our pastas or in our Toscana panini. The best part is that we only use hormone-free chicken, paired with fresh, wholesome ingredients at each of our Mici stores.
WORLD RENOWNED PROSCIUTTO DI PARMA
Prosciutto is one of the most treasured meats in Italy. Made from the hind legs of pigs and aged in a dry-curing process, prosciutto is loved throughout every region of Italy. Prosciutto translates to “ham,” and there are two popular varieties–prosciutto cotto, which is cooked, and prosciutto crudo, which is cured.
While this famous Italian meat can be made anywhere in the world, the best is labeled Prosciutto di Parma and comes from 11 specific regions in Italy. Within these regions, prosciutto can only be made from qualified heritage breeds of pigs to ensure the highest quality cuts of meat. At Mici, we import top-quality Prosciutto di Parma to make certain each of our dishes has the best flavor.
Try some delicious Prosciutto di Parma in our Tortellini all Miceli, made with tortellini, Prosciutto di Parma and peas in our creamy Alfredo sauce. It also tastes great with fresh mozzarella, provolone, spinach, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, pesto and aioli in our Verdura panini!
Alongside Prosciutto di Parma, Pancetta is another well-known and loved meat in Italy. It’s frequently called the Italian version of bacon—pork belly that is peppered, rolled and tied with twine and hung up to cure. Like bacon, pancetta has a salty flavor that pairs well with pepper and other seasonings.
Pancetta is most often, it is cubed and added to dishes for flavor, like bacon. At Mici, our Insalata Spinaci is topped with pancetta, gorgonzola and grape tomatoes, and our Pasta Amatriciana is made with marinara sauce, pancetta, onion and crushed red pepper served over penne pasta.
PROSCUITTO’S LITTLE BROTHER–CAPICOLA
Capicola, also known as Coppa or Capocollo, is one of the more popular meats in Italy. The cut comes from the back of the pig’s neck and shoulder, and each province in Italy cures it slightly different. In the U.S., capicola is usually offered in spicy or sweet varieties, but in Italy, it can be found seasoned with nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves or even a spicy chili powder.
It’s similar flavor has given it the nickname of “poor man’s prosciutto,” but don’t let the name fool you. There is nothing poor about it. This meat is a delicious on it’s own or as part of a panini. Try it out in our Palermo panini, made with capicola, salami, ham, pepperoncini, roasted red peppers, spinach, mozzarella, gorgonzola and aioli. It’s the perfect panini to take along for an Italian family picnic!
TRADITIONAL ITALIAN SAUSAGE
As one of the most popular pizza toppings, Italian sausage is by far one of the most popular Italian meats stateside. Traditional Italian sausage can be made with ground up choice cuts, such as Soppressata, or it can be made with leftover cuts like in Tuscany. Either way it’s a delicious ingredient in many Italian meals.
In the U.S., we are most familiar with sausage that is ground up and stuffed into a casing. At Mici, our family recipe sausage is made from freshly ground beef and pork and hand-rolled in our restaurants. Try some Italian sausage in your dishes by adding it to any of our pastas, or try our Salsiccia Parmesano panini, Molto Carne and Caprarola pizzas (or calzones).
Italian meats are a delicious addition to any meal. If you’re craving something authentic to the Tuscany region, try making some homemade pici pasta, order Mici for delivery or bring the entire family in to enjoy our full menu of authentic Italian dishes. We make them with only fresh, wholesome ingredients to ensure each bite is full of authentic Italian flavors. It’s what we do for family!