Kitchn Love Letters

My All-Time Favorite Italian Deli Sandwich Is Surprisingly Easy to Make at Home

published Oct 19, 2020
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Credit: Caroline Lange

There is a corner of my heart devoted to the cramped, winding aisle of a deli or sandwich shop. I’m sure you have a beloved one of your own — the kind of shop where there’s a line as soon as the door opens and you have to shop the shelves, stacked with snacks or specialty ingredients, as you wait to place your order.

These spots are always homey, a little clamoring, and sort of romantic in a neighborhood-sitcom sort of way — all the better for their impatient, hungry lines of regulars. I give special honors to those with a sandwich menu listed out in loopy paint-marker handwriting — especially when there are inside-jokey (or just plain dad-jokey) names and a red ticketing machine offering numbered paper slips as a method of crowd control. You get your greasy paper-wrapped sandwich, probably the same thing you get every time, your sweaty seltzer from the glass-door fridge, and your bag of potato chips, and you take it all out to the sidewalk or the picnic tables or the park. 

Yes, there are versions of these chaotic and wonderful delis everywhere, but if you find yourself in Poughkeepsie, New York, at the very end of the MetroNorth’s Hudson line, I hope you’ll go to Rossi’s, on the quaintly named Clover Street. I would never have found Rossi’s if my younger brother hadn’t gone to Marist College, also in Poughkeepsie. It was often the first stop when I went to visit: We’d go straight from the train station to the deli and get in line. 

The line snakes in a hairpin loop past wire shelves of imported canned tomatoes and olive oil, packaged cookies, and refrigerated cases of fresh pasta on one side, and a long counter of Italian deli specialties (cured meats, olives, pickled peppers, cheeses) on the other. (“It’s not as crazy as a Seinfeld episode, but expect to enter, wait, order, wait, and pay,” writes Danny L. on Yelp.) You can get chicken Parm if you want, or salad, but as far as I can tell, everyone is really there for the sandwiches, which — instead of medium or large — you order on 7- or 9-inch plinths of focaccia. The 7-inch would feed me once for lunch and once for dinner on the train ride home to the city.

Vegetarian sandwich options tend towards the grim at Italian delis, but not so at Rossi’s, where you can call for a custom combo. For me, that means an unshy trio of garlicky broccoli rabe, olive salad, and sharp provolone — fiendishly stinky and salty, the broccoli rabe and the olives bringing out the bitter best in each other. If you love garlic and the bite of broccoli rabe, I think you’ll like this sandwich as much as I do.

How to Make This Italian Deli Sandwich at Home

It’s not the same outside the white paper wrapper, but if you’re not in Poughkeepsie, the sandwich is easy to re-create at home. You can buy olive salad (sometimes labeled on jars as muffuletta olive salad), but you can also stir together chopped olives (I like equal parts Kalamatas and Manzanillas — those are the pimento-stuffed green ones), some grated garlic, a couple of chopped pickled peppers (like peperoncini or Peppadews), a spoonful of chopped capers, and a good splash each of red wine vinegar and olive oil, plus a pinch each of dried oregano, red chile flakes, and sugar to balance it.

Then turn the broiler on. Roughly chop a bunch of broccoli rabe, toss it with olive oil and salt, broil until softened and browned in spots, then toss it in a big bowl with grated garlic and a pinch of chile flakes. Cover so it steams a little while you toast the focaccia. Split a big piece of focaccia into halves and set them, cut-side up, on the same tray you cooked the broccoli rabe on. On the top half, pile some grated sharp provolone. Slide the tray under the broiler until the cheese is just melted and the bread is toasty, then assemble: Bottom piece of focaccia, thick layers of olive salad and broccoli rabe, and the cheesy top piece of focaccia. Hold the sandwich with both hands and eat it in big bites.