Quite Possibly the World’s Best Sandwich

I wasn’t much of a bologna — baloney — kid when I was young. While my friends pined for white bread with bologna and mayo, I found it rather bland and uninteresting.


In my teen years, working at an Italian deli, I would discover that the origins of this pale, flaccid meatstuff was actually a salumi called mortadella (the American version was named after the central-Italian city from whence mortadella originates, Bologna). And my opinion would change.

Certainly, as salumi go, mortadella does not stand out in quite the same way as, say, a fennel-infused finocchiona or a garlicky Genovese salami. Its allure is more subtle, a Chopin composition alongside these Beethovens of sausage.

We drove through Bologna on our recent Italy vacation. I’ve heard it’s a nice city, but from the highway all we saw was impersonal sprawl. It would’ve been nice to do a mortadella tour.

Also not far from where we were passing — a 40-minute detour, in fact — was Modena, home to Massimo Bottura’s celebrated Osteria Francescana, recently named the top restaurant in the world. Bottura has reinvented Italian cuisine by exploring memory, tradition and region; reducing it and turning it upside down.

I tried to get us reservations. I failed.

Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich, from Massimo Bottura's "Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef"

Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich, from Massimo Bottura’s “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef”

One of the signature dishes at the Osteria is something called “Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich.” When Massimo Bottura returned from a summer at the legendary Spanish avant garde restaurant, El Bulli — itself the best restaurant at the time — locals joked: “What are you going to do now, Bottura, make a mortadella foam!?” Bottura describes the dish — a mortadella foam — as follows:

“Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich is all about reducing an element to its essence. I was chasing a memory, and what is a memory if not a pure essence distilled by time? It’s funny how hard it is to let go of the thing I spent most of my youth running away from.”

I revert to the inspiration of my own childhood, the sandwich I shunned. And while a soft artisan bread replaces the Wonder bread and a delicious raw butter unseats the mayonnaise, the similarities are eerily

Not that you need a recipe — “Just put the @%$#ing mortadella and butter on the bread!!” — but here you go.

*    *    *

Mortadella & butter sandwich
serves 2

4 oz. mortadella
4 slices thick, soft white bread
4 tbsp. good unsalted butter

Find the best butter you can for this sandwich. Also, make sure you’re purchasing mortadella imported from Italy, the kind with the green pistachios you can see.

Let the butter soften, not quite to room temperature but enough that you can spread it.

Spread each piece of bread with butter, and place 2 oz. of mortadella each on top of bread. Top with second slice of buttered bread, and cut in half.

Serve with a chilled dry Italian white wine, or a Moretti beer.

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Don Schneider
    Sep 23, 2016 @ 03:58:41

    Hi Sean,

    Sitting in my chair as your post appeared- I might have been the first to read it.

    As English is my second language or so it would seem, I have always marveled at your writing prowess.

    However, sometimes the greats let something slip by.

    Check out third to last paragraph “It’s funny hard it is to let go of the thongs …….. Oops I meant to write things……

    Anyway, I think it’s a typo and I’ve never seen one in any of your previous posts. Then again, English is my se ins language and maybe I’m wrong.


    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Italian Goodness
    Sep 23, 2016 @ 11:29:47

    Yum! Thank tou for giving justice to our delicious real Italian Mortadella!!! I miss it so much here in Midwest.. anyway this post made my mouth watering 😉!


  3. Mon Abri Farm
    Sep 23, 2016 @ 15:44:09

    Simple is good! Now only to find good butter…


  4. Michelle
    Sep 30, 2016 @ 21:27:16

    I love it when people ask what mortadella is because the answer is so easy: It’s bologna with fat and maybe pistachios. Great stuff. But did you ever try frying plain old bologna for a sandwich? It’s a Southern staple. And with a bit of mayo and some squishy white bread, it can be pretty damn good. Or so I remember.


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