Salami Provolone i42 Market

Pio di Benedetto’s shop—a claustrophobic corner market in Naples’ Piazza Guglielmo Pepe—was a jumble of jarred capers, bagged polenta and canned tomatoes. Side-by-side pictures of Jesus and Sophia Loren watched over a cascade of mortadella and cheeses. Outside, a cranky elderly man sold produce heaped over the hood and windshield of a blue Fiat Panda, cherry-red tomatoes strung between roof rack poles. The car seemed as old and cantankerous as he.

And everywhere—outside and in, mounded on baking sheets, piled in a display case, perched on delivery boxes and wooden stools—there were panini napoletani, a bready local breakfast di Benedetto bakes at home to sell in his shop, Salumeria Pio. Except the buns felt somehow out of place, irregular and lumpy oversized mounds of lightly browned dough with meaty bits poking through. Rather scone-like, they looked like something better paired with English tea than Italian salumi.

The taste, however, made the provenance clear. Rich, savory and moist, with salty spikes of cheese and cured meat. So intensely craveable I found a quiet spot outside to enjoy a whole-bag-of-potato-chips moment with it. The texture was scone adjacent, but the flavor channeled the spirit of an Italian grinder.

Turns out, my confusion wasn’t misplaced. Panini napoletani traditionally are made by topping a sheet of yeasted dough with bits of cured meats and cheese. It then is rolled, sliced and baked much like a stromboli. The buns di Benedetto baked looked nothing like that, but the taste was spot on.

Salami Provolone i42 Outdoor Market

Sipping a beer at the bold hour of 10 a.m., di Benedetto explained that he has run the shop for 55 years, since he was 15. He started baking when he was 18 and the panini napoletani followed soon after. As a rushed young shopkeeper, he didn’t have time for the folding and fuss of the classic technique. So he improvised, dumping together the dough ingredients and whatever bits of hard salami, prosciutto and cheese were kicking around the shop, then mixing, mounding and baking.

Part of what made di Benedetto’s buns so good—beyond their dump-and-stir ease—was that despite their richness, they remained light. With all that fat—he used lard in the dough, which then was studded with fatty bits of meat and ample hunks of provolone cheese—I expected them to land like a bread bomb in my stomach.

Neapolitan Salami Provolone Buns Home

And they probably would have. Except di Benedetto had a simple trick that kept them lighter. Rather than simply add chopped bits of prosciutto to the dough, he first lightly cooked the meat to render and discard much of the fat that otherwise would have bled into the dough during baking, weighing down the finished bun.

It’s a trick we borrowed when we recreated di Benedetto’s buns. We found it easiest to microwave the prosciutto, as well as a bit of salami, for about a minute. It was just enough to lightly crisp the meat—for a pleasant textural contrast—and render the fat, which we could simply pour off before mixing. The result packed intense meaty-cheesy flavor without feeling heavy.

A savory Italian scone, indeed!