Just down Smallman Street from our Lidia’s restaurant, I have serious sandwich competition in Primanti’s, a Pittsburg institution. I am charmed by their incredibly oversized warm capicola sandwich stuffed with French fries and coleslaw. I am not sure where in the U.S.A. this tradition of stuffing a sandwich with French fries became Italian, but the sandwich was so tall that I could not open my mouth wide enough to get my first bite. Primanti’s started as a sandwich pushcart, manned by Joe Primanti, in the Strip in the 1930’s, selling sandwiches to truck drivers. One night, a trucker wanted to check if his load of frozen potatoes were good, so Joe Primanti cooked them up. Customers began asking for them, and to expedite the service they were added to the sandwich.
- 3 cups very finely shredded Savoy cabbage ()
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar ()
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil ()
- ¼ teaspoon celery seed, crushed ()
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning ()
- ¼ teaspoon sugar ()
- 2 small russet potatoes ()
- Vegetable oil, for frying ()
- 4 ounces capicola, sliced ()
- 4 ounces provolone, sliced ()
- 4 thick slices Italian bread (ideally, about 6 by 4 inches, not too crusty) ()
- 1 ripe tomato, sliced ()
Toss together the cabbage, vinegar, olive oil, celery seed, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Let the slaw sit and the flavors mingle while you make the fries.
Cut unpeeled potatoes into sticks about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. The oil is ready when the tip of a potato really sizzles on contact. Carefully slide the potatoes into the oil to fry over moderate heat, turning occasionally with tongs, until crisp, golden brown, and cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes don’t let the fried brown too quickly! (They might remain raw on the inside and burned on the outside if they are cooked too fast.) Drain on paper towels, and season with salt.
Heat another large skillet over high heat. When the skillet is hot, sear the sliced capicola until crisped on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Remove skillet form heat, and make two stacks of capicola on a side plate, laying the sliced provolone on top, to get it started melting while you assemble the sandwiches.
To assemble, lay two slices of bread on your work surface. Top with the capicola and melted cheese. Top with the fries, slaw, and sliced tomatoes. Top with the remaining bread, cut in half, and serve immediately.