When I have a large party I will serve two wedges, and 99 percent of the time, they will be Italian wedge sandwiches. The Italian wedge sandwich consists of spicy Italian ham, provolone cheese, one or two kinds of salami, lettuce, tomato and Italian dressing.
If I go to a party and an American wedge is served—turkey, American cheese, mayo, etc.—along with an Italian wedge, of the two sandwiches, the Italian wedge will go first. This is why I buy only the Italian-style wedge. It everyone’s first choice.
Most delis will have an Italian Combo sandwich on its lunch menu. This is almost exactly like the Italian wedge but with some variations. My own Italian Combo Salad was created with all the ingredients I like on a sandwich, but with pasta instead of the bread.
One day I was looking to make something to eat and I saw salami, mozzarella and various other ingredients in my refrigerator—but no Italian bread. Pasta is always in abundance in my kitchen so I improvised with it. My husband loved it because the salami was in it, and men want their daily meat intake. I make this Italian Combo Salad as much as I make my other summer salads, such as potato salad, orzo and tomato salad and regular macaroni salad.
Speaking of men and Italian combos, I would like to tell you about my Uncle Dom, who passed away about nine summers ago. My mom married my dad and my mom’s sister married Uncle Dom. My dad, Jackie and Uncle Dom, who were “outlaws,” became best friends. They would go fishing, work on their houses, and hang out together. As a family we did everything together along with other family members. So, when my dad died in 1969, my Uncle Dom, who had no children, stepped in.
I remember my mom, my aunt and my uncle did everything together. She was never alone. It was the three of them together. For as long as I can remember, my uncle has been a part of everything in my life—before my dad and even more so after.
He took me on my first plane trip. He was at my high school graduation dinner. He danced with me at my wedding. He was at all of my children’s events—beginning to end. He was at my home for regular Sunday dinners.
There was hardly a holiday that I didn’t spend without him. Uncle Dom would come to my house every Father’s Day for a barbecue, and he would bring the hot dogs. And not just a package of hotdogs.
He lived in Queens, drove to Brooklyn to get about 50 hot dogs from the kosher hot dog place where they actually make the hot dogs then bring them to my house in Westchester. When he came for Sunday dinner at my house he would drive to Manhattan to the Italian bake shop on 11th Street that made the best Italian pastries. No place was too far for him to drive to when it came to getting the perfect food for the any occasion.
But most of all, Uncle Dom took my family out to great dinners. It was never just an ordinary dinner at a restaurant. When Uncle Dom took you, it was at least a four-hour event. The best wait service and most superb food made it a dining experience you would always remember.
Usually on a Sunday evening, dinner reservations would be for 6 p.m. and you would leave the restaurant at 10 p.m. Uncle Dom taught me everything about enjoying a meal. Starting with the beginning by savoring a glass of wine while having relaxed conversation, having many courses of food spaced with time to digest, all the way to the toping the ending off with a refreshing dessert.
Wherever we went to dinner he always made us feel as if we were in his home. He picked restaurants that were both expensive and inexpensive depending on the service he was given. There was no rushing Uncle Dom. He was a good customer and a good tipper, and he usually had a relationship with the people in the restaurants once he became their patron. They would address him personally. When we went to dinner with Uncle Dom it felt like going with a celebrity. The attention he got made us feel we were special too.
Everyone should have an Uncle Dom, but I was the lucky one to have had him. If anyone taught me to love food it was him. Dining was an art to him and I learned well from my experiences throughout my life. Many times over the years I have called him for help in cooking.
When I think of him, I don’t have one bad memory. He was not an ordinary uncle. He was my second father and a grandfather to my children. There is no replacing certain people in your life like a father or a mother when they die, but Uncle Dom did just that—he became the third irreplaceable person in my life.
I dedicate this column to my Uncle Dom and all the aunts and uncles in our lives, who are extended parents to us all.
Italian Combo Salad
- 1 pound Rotini pasta, cooked and drained
- 1/4 red onion, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup of sliced roasted red peppers
- 1 small jar of marinated artichokes quarters, drained, or 1 can of artichokes, drained and sauteed
- 1/4 to 1/2 pound solid piece of Genova Salami, cubed
- 1/2 piece of a round fresh mozzarella, cubed
- 1 to 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 cup Italian dressing
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 heads of lettuce (red and butter) washed, dried and cut
- Salt and pepper
- Cook elbow pasta until al dente (a little hard, not too soft) according to package. Immediately when finished cooking, drain pasta in a colander under cold water to prevent it from becoming sticky.
- Meanwhile in a large bowl add your chopped ingredients. When the pasta is drained well and cool, toss it in with the chopped ingredients.
- Add Italian dressing, olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss well. Mixing together everything and tasting for salt and pepper or extra dressing.
- Serve immediately or refrigerator for later.
- TIP: If you can’t find fresh mozzarella or a good Italian deli, then by all means substitute the package brand from the deli section at the supermarket. Some supermarkets sell fresh mozzarellas that are very good, but don’t make yourself crazy looking for the exact ingredients. Improvise to your taste.
- ENJOY! Italian Combo Salad and a little mambo and that’s a party!
Mariann Raftery, creator of Somebody's Mom blog, cooks up comfort food recipes for families here at home, as well as sending homemade cookie care packages to our American soldiers overseas. Somebody's Mom Cooking videos at http://www.youtube.com, search "Thesomebodysmom".