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Call it a sub, hero, grinder, wedge (said to be from Yonkers, N.Y.), hoagie (generally from Philadelphia), torpedo, Zeppelin or Zep (from Norristown), spuckie (East Boston, referring to the bread, spuccadella), bomber (from around Buffalo, N.Y.) or Garibaldi (southern Wisconsin), or by any name, you’ve got an Italian sandwich.
Built on a long, narrow loaf of bread, the sandwich is filled with a mix of cheeses and Italian meats, and often lettuce, tomato, some type of pickled pepper or relish, a drizzle of oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. According to “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America” the sub and its regional variations evolved from “an Italian fieldworker lunch” of hard bread, sausage and cheese. Folding it all up into a long piece of bread made it portable and easier to eat.
Sometime subs, filled with cold cuts, are warmed up and sometimes subs are even served hot, loaded with meatballs and sauce, or chicken or eggplant Parmesan.
Lisa Cherkasky, a Washington, D.C.-based cookbook author, food stylist and great cook who blogs about sandwiches in “The Lunch Encounter,” said she learned of a curious concoction dubbed the Spa Sub, filled with spaghetti and meatballs, on a trip to West Virginia but didn’t sample it.
For creating a great sub, she said, bread is key. Soft crust or hard crust is regional and personal, but the bread has to be of good quality.
Sprinkle the bread liberally with good olive oil and vinegar after cutting it open. “Then the bread has that vinegar thing going for it, and that helps a lot, even if it’s not stellar bread,” Ms. Cherkasky said. She’s no fan of Italian dressing “unless it’s homemade. Maybe an Italian garlic mayo,” she offered.
“There’s a rhythm to building the sub. It shouldn’t be hard to construct or fussy,” she added. The trick is to hinge open the bread, leaving it closed at one long side. Lay the meat and cheese across the middle and place chopped lettuce in the center, along with tomatoes if you want, “but not lousy tomatoes.” Spice it up with red pepper flakes or a bitey red pepper relish. “Then fold it up. That way everything stays in the bread and you get something in every bite, too,” she said.
Ms. Cherkasky said a sub requires a lot of filling. “I like a mix of meat and cheese, salami, cappicola — some people add ham — and provolone or fresh mozzarella. That’s delicious,” she said.
Condiments make the sub sandwich sing. “There’s the mayo camp and the mustard camp,” she said. “I’m in both, even though mustard isn’t customary on a sub.”
Subs have regional variations and quirks that can be, well, unusual. Primanti Bros. is featuring two new Lenten subs, Heaven Sent and Hell Bent. Ms. Cherkasky mentioned a sub called the Broccoli Classic. Made at No. 7 Subs in the Ace Hotel in New York City and Brooklyn, it’s featured in chef Tyler Cord’s cookbook, “A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches.” He writes that he’s been devouring broccoli and mashed potato sandwiches since he was a kid. His Classic combines roasted broccoli, mayo, pine nuts, fried shallots, ricotta salata and a spicy lychee relish.
And then there’s that spaghetti sub. “You have leftover spaghetti, you have bread,” Ms. Cherkasky said. “Put some cheese on the bread, put in the spaghetti, wrap the whole thing in foil, push it together and heat it up in the oven so the bread’s toasty. It would be good. My kid would eat that in a second. Yum.”
Miriam Rubin: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mmmrubin.
Super Submarine Sandwich With Olive-Pepper Relish
This sandwich improves as it chills out in the fridge. The olive-pepper relish soaks into the bread and all the flavors blend together. Switch up the meats if you like but make sure they are thinly sliced, and not shaved.
1 cup pitted, drained Kalamata olives
3/4 cup sliced, drained, hot pickled banana peppers
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 loaf ciabatta bread
6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
6 ounces thinly sliced hot or mild sopressata
6 ounces thinly sliced capicola, ham or mortadella
4 ounces thinly sliced Genoa salami
8 ounces sliced mild provolone cheese
6 small tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/3 cup red onion slices
For the relish: Add all ingredients in food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped but not pureed. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
For the sub: Slice the bread in half horizontally. Pull out the extra soft bread inside the top half of loaf; save for breadcrumbs.
On the bottom half of bread, spread half the olive relish. Layer with meats, provolone, tomatoes and red onions; season with salt and pepper and spoon the remaining olive relish on top. Place other piece of bread over the sandwich and press down lightly. Wrap the sandwich in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
To serve, slice the sandwich into 2-to-3-inch pieces crosswise. Any leftovers can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
— Miriam Rubin
It’s featured in Tyler Cord’s “A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches.” He writes: “This one could be hot or cold — it just depends on your confidence level and attitude. If you want it to be hot, I suggest having everything ready so that when you finish cooking the broccoli, you’re ready to make a sandwich.”
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 sub rolls, split lengthwise
2 heads roasted broccoli (trim the broccoli, peel tender stems, toss with oil and salt and roast at 400 degrees until caramelized and tender)
1 cup lychee muchim (recipe follows), mostly drained of its juice
1 cup shredded ricotta salata cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup fried shallots (recipe follows)
Spread mayo on the rolls and top with the roasted broccoli and lychee muchim. Press it all down a little with your hand to make a nice flat base for the remaining ingredients. Sprinkle cheese, pine nuts and shallots, and close the sandwich.
Makes 4 servings.
This makes 1 cup of marinade, good for brining about 2 cups of anything. Muchim in Korean means mixed or seasoned but is generally employed to describe a Korean cucumber salad called “oi muchim.” Mr. Cord writes.
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
Few drops sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons red chili flakes (or less, to taste)
1 cup white vinegar
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 (20-ounce) can lychees in syrup, drained and halved
Stir together garlic, ginger, shallot, sesame oil, sugar, chili flakes, vinegar, scallions and salt until thoroughly mixed. Add the lychees and soak for at least 1 hour. Keeps, refrigerated, for up to a couple of weeks.
Vegetable oil for frying
4 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Heat 1 inch of oil in a heavy medium saucepan until a shallot ring sizzles when dropped in.
Toss shallots in cornstarch, separating the rings. Add to the oil in batches and fry until crisp and blonde. Drain on paper towels.
Heat same oil to about 325 degrees. Fry shallots a second time, until puffed, caramelized and just light brown. Drain again on new paper towels and season with salt.
— Adapted from “A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches” by Tyler Cord, (Clarkson Pottter; June 2016)