Spuma di Mortadella: Let’s Hear it for Preserved Meat Foam!

spuma di mortadella quenelles on crostini

At Via Clavature 18, hidden in the back streets of Bologna, is the comparatively charmless little Ristorante da Gianni. It’s dimly lit, almost to the point of stumbling darkness — especially if you enter, as we did, from the sharp rays of a late midsummers’ afternoon nursing a fierce hangover brought on by a handful of Negronis the night before — and is made even darker by heavy wood paneling on all sides and rather gruff service. However, it is famous among local gastronomes for its strictly traditional Bolognese fare, and as most food-obsessed people know intuitively, what they serve in such seemingly unlikely-looking places often more than makes up for what is lacking in atmosphere. So it was here.

I’ve rhapsodized previously about the wonder that was the deep-fried lamb chops I first ate there, and my wife has written extensively about both the outstanding ragu alla Bolognese and the equally scrumptious sausage ragu we tore through as our respective primi piatti that day, but (as part of a gargantuan meal that also included a giant-felling plate of bollito misto) these courses were preceded by a dish of such cunning, such laughter-inducing simplicity, that I have been wanting to make it ever since — just to see if it would tickle me in the same way again. Not only that, but it may also have been among the most effective hangover cures I have ever tried, for following it, I was able to play a more than active role in emptying three bottles of Barolo. So just what was this jovial and miraculous dish, you ask? Spuma di Mortadella sauced sparingly with the sweetest, honeyed, aged-balsamic vinegar I’ve ever had the privilege to taste.

Anyone else see a smiling face in here?

“Ugh! Baloney foam! Why would you begin such a meal with that crap?”, I hear you cry. Well, you’re half-right. Spuma di mortadella is, in fact, nothing more than whipped “Bologna ham”, but it is also, simultaneously, so, so, so much more. Unfortunately, many Americans only know baloney/Bologna as the ubiquitous bright pink sandwich meat that has cursed many a child’s school lunch with its weird, cloying, yet plasticky, texture, and flavor somewhere between hairspray and old socks. But, as with many mass-produced things — from shoes to IKEA furniture — the handmade versions are not only completely different, they’re way better.

spuma di mortadella tortelloni

Mortadella, known as Bologna in the US because it was originally made only in the immediate vicinity of the city, is an ancient kind of emulsified (forcemeat) sausage that gets its name from the mortar (mortaio) and pestle that was used once-upon-a-time to grind up the pork and spices during preparation. Incorporating at least 15% pork fat — specifically the firm, white neck fat of the pig, and often as large cubes rather than ground up with the pork — mortadella can be flavored with a variety of things including, myrtle berries, black or white peppercorns, nutmeg, coriander, olives and pistachios. It is then cooked gently for as long as 24 hours, depending on the size of the mortadella (some weigh up to 100kilos/220lbs), in air-drying ovens, before being sprayed with cold water and allowed to stabilize in a cooling room.

spuma di mortadella tortelloni

In Emilia-Romagna, mortadella is often served as part of a salumi, or charcuterie, plate with a selection of the region’s staggeringly delicious cured pork products like, culatello di Zibello, coppa Piacentino, prosciutto di Parma, spalla cotta, zampone (at Christmas), or cappello di prete (a pinky-white forcemeat “sausage” that looks like a priest’s tri-cornered hat), but it can be used to make a wide variety of delectable treats, including spuma di mortadella.

The translation of spuma di mortadella to “mortadella foam” is unfortunate, and somewhat hyperbolic, because while the sausage is whipped and feels light on the tongue, it neither resembles foam in texture, nor sits like air on the stomach. Nonetheless, its simplicity is its brilliance: we simply combined first-rate mortadella (with the lumps of hard fat) with nutmeg and cream and whipped it into a light pink emulsion garnishing with pistachios and a drizzle of excellent balsamic vinegar (in our case, a 30 year old we had bought from a man with a very dubious hair-piece).

spuma di mortadella crostini with poached egg

However, spuma di mortadella isn’t a one trick pony, quite the opposite. It also makes a fabulously rich filling for a stuffed pasta – which we sauced with garlic-infused butter. And, in a glorious return, tearing up its debased American bag-lunch roots, it is a kick-ass sandwich filling that would be the envy of any child in the playground. It’s even better when used as a topping for a montadito (small, open-faced sandwich, like a crostini or bruschetta) and mounted a cheval, with a poached egg.

We encourage you to give this one a try, even if you have remedial issues from being teased about your baloney-breath by the cool kids, because spuma di mortadella can make even the biggest nerd cool.

Spuma di Mortadella: Mortadella “Foam” (feeds a lot of people – in fact, this full recipe made all three of these dishes – the spuma on bread, the breakfast spuma and the spuma-stuffed pasta)
Ingredients

  • 3/4lb best mortadella you can find
  • 2/3 cup light cream
  • 4 heaping tablespoons of ricotta cheese
  • 1tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • pinch of fresh ground pepper
  • 2oz shelled pistachios
  • good bread
  • Best aged balsamic vinegar

Recipe

  1. Chop mortadella into bite-sized chunks and place in food processor
  2. Blitz sausage until reasonably smooth – you’ll know when it can’t really get any smoother without adding any liquid.
  3. Add cream, ricotta and nutmeg and continue to blitz until smooth and mousse-like.
  4. Taste and season with black pepper or more nutmeg according to your taste.
  5. Scoop your spuma into a non-reactive bowl, press plastic wrap onto the top, and refrigerate for at least an hour so mixture can set.
  6. Put shelled pistachios in a bag and bash with a rolling-pin or other blunt instrument until crumbly and broken but not dust.
  7. With two spoons, make quenelles out of your spuma and place artistically on a plate with some toasted bread.
  8. Decorate spuma with a sprinkling of pistachios and a few dots of balsamic.
  9. Enjoy with a bottle of bardolino or dolcetto.

Ristorante da Gianni (A La Vecia Bulagna)
Via Clavature 18, Bologna, 40124 IT
T: 051-229434
Dinner €20-30 per person

27 thoughts on “Spuma di Mortadella: Let’s Hear it for Preserved Meat Foam!

  1. We recently made shrimp moussalina to fill many, many raviolis with–though it took some convincing on my part to get the husband on board–and the results were delicious. We have an Italian market near us that seems to have an extensive collection of Italian meats–perhaps spuma di Mortadella is the next step…

    I love how you used it in so many applications here–the open-face sandwich intrigues me greatly.

  2. Back on fine foam (hic) form I see.
    I loved this, funnily enough a friend of ours made us some mortadella mousse recently having just got back from Bologna with a mothership piece of mortadella. I have to admit I was suspicious…until I tried it. We had it on toast, many other delicious antipasti were neglected in favour of it’s pale pink creamyness.
    I am now officially inspired, especially as a filling for pasta.
    Now I may just have to nip to the forno to get a peice of warm pizza bianca split and filled with a big slab of Mortadella…needs must.

  3. This sounds amazing! And I’m much more interested in it, given the fact that it’s NOT foam, as I’m getting sick of the minimalist cooking stuff (a cube of goat cheese/truffle “jelly”, etc.). How is your school year going so far?

  4. Oh my gawwwd!!
    Never heard of spuma di mortadella before but it’s love at first sight. You scared me a little with the title, i thought you joined the dark side and started doing molecular gastronomy. hehe. That looks fantastic! I want everything on this post, everything!! And the 30 years old balsamic is a real treat, isn’t it?

  5. Terrific post! The history is fascinating and your description of the restaurant makes me want to pack my bags and head to Bologna. The open face sandwich with the egg on top is a winner. What a shot!

  6. rachel – your punning is getting as bad as ours, but please don’t stop. similarly,
    chris – keep it up. i’m a sucker for bad pun.
    jen/zen – don’t you worry about us going all molecular on you. if we wanted chemicals added to our food, we’d eat at mcdonalds. and yes, 30yr old balsamic is the lick. it only comes out on special occasions, but it blows my mind every time.
    katiek – you hit the nail on the head. who said you can overcook pork?

  7. I grew up on imported Italian mortadella (was raised in Albania), and I am drooling just thinking about the foam + bread + balsamic. Wow! Sounds fantastic. The pasta, and egg topped sandwich sounds delicious as well. Beautiful pictures and great info. Yum!

  8. You 2 are the bravest food bloggers. You took a seemingly unpopular, unknown to many, odd, etc. product and turned it into something spectacular that makes me want to run to my nearest deli counter. Love it – in fact, I think I’ll tweet it around.

    1. you’re too kind, Joan. It’s funny because before eating the spuma in Bologna, I wouldn’t have touched baloney at all – even if it was deep-fried in goose fat. But it was a transformative experience, for sure. Nowadays, and when we can find mortadella of an acceptable quality, we’re all over it like a rash. Spuma di mortadella will do that to you.

  9. You do put it so poetically – “preserved meat foam”. Yeah, it doesn’t quite sound so good when you put it that way. 😉

    I would definitely try somethign like this. It has plenty of artery-clogging goodness going on. I tend to avoid mortadella because too many places around here sell stuff that looks like pale baloney with big fat lumps, but it’s time to hit the Italian specialty stores and get something a bit better.

  10. Any post with “baloney” and “forcemeat” in it has no right to be this appetizing. Welcome back. I might be showing the apartment this week, and if so I’ll let you know so you can invite me over for emulsified pork paste smoothies.

  11. That sounds awesome. Bologne (and any forcemeat for that matter) was one of the few things I refused to eat as a child. I’ve since outgrown this aversion and will even eat dirty water hotdogs now (if sufficiently starved).

    This looks curiously delicious. On one hand I’m imagining Oscar Meyer in the blender with Coolwhip, but you make it look so elegant I may have to go find some descent mortadella to give this a go.

Like this post? Hate this post? Let us know!