There are almost as many
kinds of sausage as there are countries, and Sicily was once a country. The
typical Sicilian sausage is salsiccia alla pizzaiola. This is made
with ground pork and spices but also chopped onions, tomatoes, parsley and
sometimes chunks of cheese or even pine nuts. The word itself comes to us
from the Latin salsus, meaning "salted."
By definition, sausage is ground meat packed into a casing - usually
beef intestine. Stricyly speaking, salame
is a sausage but not all sausage is salame (which is cured and dried). Some
sausages are made of cooked meat. This includes most German wursts, Polish
kielbasa and Italy's mortadella, sometimes called "bologna" for
the city where it is made.
Pizziaola is fresh ("raw") sausage and it includes no organ
meats (offal). This brings us to an interesting point about sausage. In
central and eastern Europe - and apparently in Bologna as well - sausage
resulted from the efforts of butchers to sell scraps, fat and offal in a
"presentable" form which also lent itself to storage. Sausages
and salami could be said to be some of the earliest "processed"
There is a literary reference to sausage made of lamb and goat meat in
China before 500 BC (BCE). Its existence in ancient Sicily is connected
to the Greeks. Blood sausage is mentioned in Homer's epic Odyssey. Epicharmus
and Aristophanes both mention the food in their plays. In Roman Italy Lucania
(now Basilicata) was known for its sausage, Lucanica.
We do not know which kind of sausage meat the ancient Sicilians preferred.
Beef was rare, and by the ninth century a significant segment of the population
(Muslims and Jews) would not eat pork. Sicilian sausage is not cured or
fermented, and its shelf life is limited. The vast variety of Italian sausages
is surpassed only by Germany's. These include everything from raw sausage
(like pizzaiola) to cooked sausage (wurstel and mortadella), liver sausage,
blood sausage, cheese sausage, the numerous salami and - more recently -
sausage made from fish, seafood or poultry.
For a "raw" sausage, pizzaiola has a distinctive flavor. It's
great grilled over an open fire, or even in pasta sauces. Ketchup, mustard
and yogurt sauce are suitable condiments. By tradition pizzaiola is
eaten in sandwiches alone, with no need of enhancements, but you might
try it with a real Sicilian frittata.
About the Author: Roberta Gangi has written
numerous articles and one book dealing with Italian cultural and culinary
history, and a number of food and wine articles for Best of Sicily Magazine.