Summer may be winding down but there are still a few weeks left to enjoy seasonal activities like splashing around at the beach; seeking theme park thrills; foraging through woodlands; hiking or biking through beautiful trails; and grabbing a blanket and packing a picnic to enjoy at the park.
Quintessential in my wicker basket is what I consider to be the perfect picnic food, a scrumptious Sicilian sandwich known as the Muffuletta. A mile high loaf (ok, actually only 2 inches high) piled with layers of Italian deli meats and its distinctive characterizing feature, olive salad. Anyone who’s been to New Orleans will recognize this sandwich as a staple garnering signature status right alongside the Po’ Boy.
The original Muffuletta or Muff (as it is affectionately known), is said to have been the original creation of Salvatore Lupo, owner of the famed Central Grocery (an Italian Market) in New Orleans, in 1906. Central Grocery was located near the Farmer’s Market and quite often many of the farmers, most of which were Sicilian immigrants, would find themselves there for lunch, ordering bread, salami, cheese and a little olive salad. Signor Lupo would watch them while they sat on crates and barrels performing a balancing act with their meal on their laps.
While typical Sicilian fashion was for each food to be eaten separately, Salvatore suggested that it might be easier if he halved a loaf of bread and made a sandwich with the ingredients. After experimenting with different types of bread he found that the soft, round, sesame topped, Sicilian Muffuletta loaf was ideal, and began producing the sandwich. In no time, the farmers began asking for it as the Muffuletta and a taste phenomenon was born. The Central Grocery now has two locations in New Orleans, each proudly bearing a sign reading “Home of the original Muffuletta”, and each drawing a crowd for the famous Sicilian sub. The Italian market has since become a tourist attraction and the sandwich it made famous can be found all over the Mardi gras city.
The Muff consists of a round loaf of bread (about 10 inches across) filled with Italian salami, olive salad, provolone cheese and mortadella. The key ingredient is the olive salad which gives the sandwich its special flavor and makes it appealing to the eye. A true Muffuletta must always be served at room temperature, never toasted; it is considered blasphemy to heat the sandwich.
You don’t have to stamp your passport and take a trip to New Orleans however to enjoy this delectable sandwich, you can easily prepare the Muff at home and pack it up just like I do for a picnic. Buon Appetito!
Muffuletta Sandwich Recipe
- 2/3 cup pitted and chopped green manzanillo olives
- 2/3 cup pitted and chopped black Kalamata olives
- 1/2 chopped roasted red pepper
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 anchovy fillet mashed
- 1 tbls capers, drained, rinsed and chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1 tsp chopped fresh oregano (dried works well if you don’t have fresh)
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
Combine all the salad ingredients together and allow the flavors to marry for 1 hour. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.
For the sandwich:
- 1 round crusty Italian bread such as Calabrese, sourdough, or if available actual Sicilian Muffuletta bread
- Sliced provolone cheese
I have taken a few liberties with the deli meats and filled the sandwich with some of my favorites versus the traditional mortadella and salami (though I have also made the traditional version)
- Sliced spicy capicollo
- Sliced porchetta
- Sliced prosciutto cotto
- Sliced bresaola
- Sliced roast chicken
To make the Muffuletta cut the bread in half lengthwise and hollow out the bottom half. Layer the bottom with some of the olive salad and its juices (this is also where I stray from the original recipe where olive oil is brushed on the bottom and the salad is reserved merely for the top of the sandwich). Fill with layers of the deli meats and cheese (I actually tried to alternate the lighter and darker meats with the cheese for visual appeal). Once you have filled the bread top with the olive salad and cover with the other half of the loaf and press down slightly. If possible allow the Muffuletta to sit for at least half an hour once again for all the flavors and layers to mingle. Slice into wedges and serve at room temperature, and, if possible enjoy with a nice glass of wine.