After a long winter of being cooped up inside the house, as soon as the snow melts and green things begin to emerge from the earth again, the urge to pack up a picnic and eat outside is very strong.
Usually I’m keen on layering fresh bread with an assortment of cheeses, meats and snacky things like olives and pickles. But then there is the muffuletta which is all of these things made into one colossal (and delicious!) sandwich.
Muffuletta (muff-uh-LAH-tuh) – also known as Muffaletta – is a classic New Orleans sandwich that consists of a large wide bread, filled with layers of marinated olive salad, cheese, and Italian deli meats. In Italy, muffuletta is the name of the bread itself: a round and flat Sicilian sesame loaf. The sandwich was created in 1906 at the Central Grocery in New Orleans by its owner, Salvatore Lupo, a Sicilian immigrant. Legend has it that Salvatore noticed his customers had a hard time juggling and eating their bread, meat and olives – which he sold separately – so he started putting everything together in one giant sandwich. The sandwich came to be known as Muffuletta because he used the sesame-seed topped bread. To this day, it is an extremely popular sandwich found all over New Orleans.
The all important olive salad consists of olives, obviously. I use pitted kalamata and pimento-stuffed green, but you can use whatever variety you like. Giardiniera (a mix of pickled vegetables in vinegar or oil) is traditional in this sandwich, but I used roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts instead. If you have a jar of this in the fridge, by all means use it. I prefer shallots in the salad because they are milder and will let the olives shine. You can use some red onion if you like. Oregano is key, and dried is fine. For a bit of a kick, I add a generous pinch of red pepper flakes. For some acidity, I use sherry vinegar, but red or white wine vinegars can be used instead. Extra virgin olive oil rounds out the salad, but don’t forget to season with salt and pepper.
The bread is important here, and I use a round loaf of sourdough as it is nice and sturdy. Provolone is the cheese of choice, though slices of fresh mozzarella would be very tasty. For the cold cuts, salami, ham, capicola, mortadella, and soppressata (hot or sweet) are fairly traditional. Use what you like, just be sure they are thinly sliced. To have something green, I added the peppery bite of arugula.
Assembling the sandwich is straightforward: hollow out the bread, spread the olive salad on both cut sides, layer in the meat and cheese, add the arugula, put the bread top on, then wrap the sandwich tightly in plastic. You can enjoy it after one hour, or wait a bit longer so the flavours marry. This is a terrific sandwich to slice and eat outside, or wrap each wedge individually and take along on all of those outdoor adventures we’ll be having this spring and summer. Don’t forget the napkins!