New Orleans cuisine is full of unique dishes. The Muffuletta (pronounced mufh-uh-let-uh) is one that most visitors to the city seek out. This sandwich is not found in the fancy restaurants, making it a dish to be enjoyed by all walks of life.
The Central Grocery, in the French Quarter, is credited with its invention. Most of the farmers in the French Market were Sicilians. They would go to the Central Grocery across the street from the market for lunch. Ordering some salami, ham, a piece of cheese, a little olive salad and some bread, the farmer proceeded to eat them separately. Salvatore Lopo, the owner of Central Grocery, suggested that they cut the bread and put everything inside and eat it like a sandwich. So they stacked the meats, cheese and olive salad inside the bread and the Muffuletta was created.
There are two main components that sets the Muffuletta apart from other sandwiches. Muffuletta bread, a round Sicilian sesame bread, was softer than an Italian twist loaf, so it was used by Central Grocery to make the sandwich. Since Muffuletta bread is impossible to find at the local stores, a French bread loaf or a round sourdough bread make good substitutions.
The other main ingredient is the olive salad. This is a mixture of olives, garlic, capers, seasonings and olive oil. This is made in advance and taste better after sitting a day.
The sandwich is usually too large for a single person to eat it in one sitting. Most restaurants sell it by the whole sandwich, half sandwich or quarter sandwich. Locally, you can find a decent example of a Muffuletta at McAlister’s Deli. However, we are roughly 500 miles away from an authentic Muffuletta.
The Olive Salad is a versatile ingredient. It is often used in making pasta dishes, as a pizza topping or as a salad ingredient. Making your own olive salad is far superior to one’s that you find pre-made in the grocery store. It keeps well in the refrigerator.
2 medium Carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
1 cup Cauliflower Florets
1 small Red Bell Pepper
16 large Green Olives, pitted
2 cups medium Green Olives, pitted
1 cup rind-cure Black Olives, pitted
1 1/2 cups Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 cup Brining Juice from the olive jar
6 large Garlic Cloves, chopped
4 ribs Celery, chopped
1/4 cup (a small jar) Capers
10 springs Flat-Leaf Parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons dried Oregano
1 teaspoon dried Basil
1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Boil the carrots and cauliflower until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Rinse with cold water, drain, and set aside. Roast the bell pepper under a broiler until the skin turns black and blistered in spots. Keep turning until the entire exterior is that way. Remove, cool, peel, and remove stem and seeds. Cut into 1/2 x 1-inch pieces and set aside. with a knife (not a food processor), coarsely chop the olives. It’s okay if some of the olives are cut into just 2 pieces or not at all. Transfer the olives to a large non-metallic bowl. Add all of the remaining olive salad ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least one day; a week is better.
1/2 pound lean, smoked Ham, thinly sliced
1/2 pound Genoa Salami, thinly sliced
1 pound total of at least two of these cheeses: Mozzarella, Provolone, or Swiss, thinly sliced
One loaf Muffuletta Bread
Cut loaf in half crosswise and spoon olive salad with lots of the marinating oil onto both halves. Layer slices of meats and cheeses onto the bottom half. Cover with the top half of the loaf and cut into quarters to serve.
Some people like to have their sandwich warmed. For a warmed sandwich, before combining the two halves, place them in a preheated 350 degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes. Place the two halves together and cut into quarters, then enjoy!