For the Love of Italy: A Favorite Sandwich

By Matt Galvin

Certain beloved foods trigger memories, transporting us through time and space to a special moment. For me, one of those foods is a mortadella and fresh mozzarella sandwich on focaccia. Like so much Italian food, its beauty lies in quality ingredients and simplicity. The freshly baked focaccia must be golden brown, flavorful and tender with a toothy crust, the mortadella thinly sliced and artfully layered and the fresh mozzarella creamy.

My first taste of this sandwich was in Florence during a college semester abroad. The bakery had a wood-burning oven, and the baker would brush the dough with olive oil and saltwater. With a long flat peel, he’d place the floury dough into the oven, and about 20 minutes later a golden slab of steaming focaccia about four feet long would emerge from the oven. A piece of that savory bread layered with mortadella, fresh mozzarella, was, and still is, a perfect sandwich.

After college, I returned to Italy to teach history and got to know the specialties of different regions. Still, for a quick lunch, nothing surpassed my favorite Florentine sandwich, except maybe a version I had in Rome at the famed bakery Antico Forno Roscioli.

Years later, on return visits to Rome, I always headed to Antico Forno Roscioli for my favorite sandwich. I’d take it to Piazza Navona and find a spot to perch amid the fountains and take in the scene, a sentimental visit that always brought similar memories of times past flooding into the present.

This year, my daughter, Gracie, is spending a semester abroad in Florence. Recently, my wife, Michelle, and I visited her and took her to Rome for a weekend. Guess where we grabbed lunch? En route to Antico Forno Roscioli, we wandered through Campo di Fiori. Then with sandwiches in hand, we strolled over to Piazza Navona. Sitting there, I discovered something better than enjoying your favorite sandwich in a perfect setting—watching your daughter do the same thing for the first time!

Some might say, location, location, location, and they’re not wrong—go if you can. In the meanwhile, enjoy Macrina’s version of my favorite sandwich. It’s served on an Italian-style golden brown focaccia, made fresh every morning and topped with a light sprinkle of rosemary and cherry tomatoes, layered with thinly sliced mortadella and creamy fresh mozzarella. If you close your eyes and use your imagination, the patter of rain outside might just be the fountain splash of Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi.