Muffa-what? You Gotta Try This Sandwich...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's February which means it's almost time for my second favorite holiday (Halloween being the first, of course). No, it's not the one Hallmark made up to eek out more cash out of us on red and pink colored valentines and boxes of horrible chocolates. I'm talking about Mardi Gras.

With the New Orleans Saints making it to the Super Bowl this past weekend, we threw a Mardi Gras themed party in their honor to help cheer them on to victory (Go Saints!). The food was a huge hit and everyone begged me to share the recipes, so here goes!

We'll start with the Muffuletta sandwiches. Muffuletta (also spelled/pronounced "muffoletta") is as much a traditional New Orleans food as a gumbo or praline. I love it because it's a sandwich that's easy to make and just packed with flavor and colors, just like the rest of the Mardi Gras celebration. It was invented in the early 1900's in New Orleans French Quarter by a Sicilian immigrant who owned and operated a store called Central Grocery. The sandwich itself gets its name from the muffuletta bread -- a round, spongy loaf similar to a French boule bread -- but that is rather difficult to find outside of a strong Italian community. The heart of the sandwich is the olive "salad" which is a combination of virtually every pickled vegetable known to man, olive oil, vinegar and spices that is left to marinate at least a week for flavors to meld together. The rest of the sandwich has a selection of deli meats and cheeses (the original has salami, capicola, mortadella, provelone and emmentaler) that are compressed with the olive salad inside so the spongy bread can soak up all the flavors and juices.

Here's my recipe for Muffuletta sandwiches, adapted to use more readily available ingredients.

First off, the famed Olive Salad:

2 cups green olives with pimentos, drained
2 cup pitted kalamata olives, drained
2 cups mixed pickled vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, pearl onions, etc.), drained
1 cup roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1 cup pepperoncinis, drained and stems removed (seeds are ok)
1/3 cup capers, drained
2-3 fresh celery, chopped
8 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp fresh oregano, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp fresh thyme, leaves pulled from stems
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, roughly chopped
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and cover tightly. Refrigerate at least 3 days or up to 2 weeks, tossing the salad once a day.

Can be used for sandwiches, salads or garnish to meats and fish.

To prepare the muffuletta sandwich I made for the party:

1 muffuletta loaf of bread (or boule, or French miche (pictured below) or equivalent)
1/2 lb Canadian ham, thinly sliced
1/2 lb Genoa salami, thinly sliced
1/2 lb soppressata, thinly sliced
1/2 lb aged provelone cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 lb mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
3 cups of the olive salad (recipe above), pulsed in a food processor
extra virgin olive oil

To begin, cut your sandwich. This will depend on what bread you're using. If you can find a traditional muffuletta, then go ahead and just slice it through in half. If using a French boule or miche (as I did), then do something different. Cut out the top of the bread. leaving the sides intact. You're creating a basket for the olive salad, meats and cheeses. Take out some of the spongy bread inside but make sure to leave a bit in there to soak up the olive salad juices.

Spoon in half of the olive mixture into the bottom of the bread "basket" in one even layer, then drizzle it with the olive oil.

Next, layer in your ham (it's ok if you overlap), and then repeat with the salami next, as pictured here:

Repeat the process with the soppressata, and then with the mozarella cheese:

Repeat again and end with the provelone:

Top again with the remaining olive mixture and another good drizzle of olive oil. Stuff the top layer of bread you cut out back on top and press it back in with a good amount of pressure until the bread retains its original shape. Cover very tightly with plastic wrap (it helps if you have someone hold the bread while the other person wraps it), making sure to cover it over and over and over again tightly. This will not only ensure freshness but will also help the sandwich stay very compact, which will help the olive salad penetrate the bread more effectively.
Refrigerate until ready to serve. This can be done a whole day in advance.
Cut the sandwich with a sharp knife into desired portions like this:

And here's a cross-section of the different layers:

My version obviously isn't a perfectly traditional muffuletta, as I didn't have all the traditional ingredients readily available. But I think I did hit the flavor marks and spirit of the sandwich. Some people like keeping the olive salad whole (un-processed in the food processor), which is fine too. I wanted it pulsed to make it a little easier to eat for everyone.
Enjoy it!

1 comment:

Lisa Ruminski said...

That looks scrumptious! Great party food, anytime of year!