Food & Drink

August 4, 2014

Sam's Italian Deli: yes, sandwiches, but now much more

For many years, Sam's Italian Deli and Market in east central Fresno has been known for its tasty sandwiches. But next time you pick up your Sam's Special, take a look around and you will notice what makes this neighborhood deli more than just a quick place for lunch.

Italian food lovers can tell you about the culinary treasures on the store's tidy shelves: 10 different brands of Italy's premier tomato, the San Marzano; finely ground flour — 00 grade — for great pizza dough crust and more than 20 imported and California premium olive oils.

"We like to say that when chef Mario Batali says you must have this one particular ingredient, you will be able to find it here," says Nick Marziliano, whose parent's Sam and Angela founded the market in 1968.

Back then, the market got its start in Toronto, Canada, where the family lived until moving to the central San Joaquin Valley more than three decades ago.

Sam Marziliano liked the region because it reminded him of his native Puglia in southern Italy.

He farmed grapes and olives and later opened a small market on the corner of First and Clinton where Sam's Italian Deli and Market remains today.

Sam Marziliano passed away in 2011 and Nick and his mother Angela continue to run the deli and the market.

Over the years, the deli's sandwiches became a major draw and also somewhat of a challenge for Marziliano.

The Sam's Special is the best-seller and is stacked with ham, turkey, mortadella, dry salami and jack cheese.

But while sandwiches sell well, Marziliano also is making a bigger push to get customers more familiar with his imported wines, prepared foods and the market's own line of products.

Waiting to be unveiled is a wine-tasting room and kitchen. The market expanded next door into a former flower shop and is in the process of converting the space.

Marziliano hopes to be ready by Christmas season.

Already built is a temperature-controlled wine room loaded with imported and domestic wines.

Still to be completed is a gourmet kitchen that will be used for cooking demonstrations, including some hosted by his mother Angela.

"We are really excited about this new space and we think the community will like it, too," Marziliano says.

It's all a part of getting customers to become reacquainted with Sam's.

Homemade touch

Marziliano is proud of the store's prepared dishes that are made in-house and come from family recipes. Inside one refrigerator case, customers will find 10 different homemade ravioli, 12 pastas, lasagna and desserts, including tiramisu. You also will find pasta sauces galore, including marinara sauce, bolognese sauce, alfredo and a hearty Sunday gravy sauce.

The 40-foot-long refrigerated case has multiple varieties of hard cheese, including parmesan and pecorino romano, 30 different types of salami, and five different types of proscuitto.

There also are several Sam's specialties, including hand-formed meatballs, New York-style pork sausage shaped into a coil and braciole, rolled slices of flank steak filled with garlic, parsley, pecorino romano cheese, and pancetta.

"We love the fact that our sandwich counter is busy, but sometimes people grab a number and they just wait there, not wanting to miss their number when it's called," says Marziliano.

"So we are trying to redo some of our shelving and rearrange things so there is a better flow to the store. We want people to explore."

Some customers, like Dennis Mcguire, have long discovered Sam's specialties. He and his wife drive down from Prather once a month to stock up on his favorites, bolognese sauce, Sunday gravy and meatballs.

"Everything is so fresh and made with no preservatives," Mcguire said. "And it also tastes homemade. It is really good."

Braciole recipe

Makes about 6 braciole

3 pounds of choice flank steak (each braciola weighing about 8 ounces finished weight)

1/2 bunch fresh Italian parsley chopped, a good pinch for each meat roll

5 cloves fresh chopped garlic.

A prosciutto slice or sliced pancetta

8 ounces grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Pinch of salt for each beef roll

Pinch of red pepper flakes for each roll (optional)

Pinch fresh ground black pepper per roll

A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on each

2 quarts of pasta sauce (homemade or your favorite jarred marinara)

1 cup white wine

Butterfly each large piece of flank steak in two and pound it with a meat tenderizing mallet. Lay the butterflied pounded pieces of meat side by side on a work table and sprinkle the parsley, cheese, ground black pepper, salt, garlic prosciutto slice and olive oil onto the meat.

Fold in the short sides of the beef, then the bottom, followed by the top, to enclose and create a long bundle. Secure the meat with toothpicks or butchers twine.

Preheat a braising pan or a sauce pot and add 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Place the tied beef braciole in the hot oil and then cover; braise them on one side for 10 minutes on high heat then turn over and braise for another 10 minutes. Add the braised braciole to a simmering pot of pasta sauce. Add 1 cup white wine to the braising pan, scrape all the browned bits from the sides and bottom (de-glaze) and reduce by two-thirds.

Add the reduced wine to the pot with the braciole.

Cover and simmer on low for two hours then uncover and simmer for an additional hour till sauce is reduced and thick. Remove from sauce and slice into pinwheel rounds and serve with pasta or as a side dish. Serve with your favorite pasta.

Focaccia Barese

Makes 8 servings

1 1/8 teaspoons active dry yeast

3/4 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees), divided

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/3 cup mashed potato flakes

1 1/2 teaspoons plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups 00 flour or any bread flour

For the topping:

1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, drained and filleted

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Add sugar; let stand for 5 minutes. Add the potato flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, salt, 1 cup flour and remaining water. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Place 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet; tilt pan to evenly coat. Add dough; shape dough to fit pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

With fingertips, make several dimples over top of dough. Brush with remaining tablespoon of oil.

Arrange tomato fillets over dough; sprinkle with oregano and sea salt.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.

Angela's Orecchiette alla Barese

Makes 3 servings

1/2 pound Orecchiette Pasta

2 links Sam's Medium or Mild Italian Sausages

4 cloves of garlic

1 bunch Rapini Greens (usually available at Whole Foods, The Market or Save Mart)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup white wine

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Boil rapini for 10 minutes in salted boiling water then drain, chop and move to bowl. Grill sausages (or broil) until outside is crispy and then cut into slices.

Add olive oil to pan and add garlic at medium-to-high heat for 3-5 minutes. Add rapini to pan with salt and pepper and sauté for 10 minute at low heat, then add sausage and white wine, stir and then cover with lid.

In another pot, boil water and add orecchiette and cook for 12 minutes or until al dente. Drain orecchiette from pot and add to pan of sausage and rapini then add pecorino romano.


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