Nov 4, 2009

A Lotta Muffuletta

One of my favorite things to eat in New Orleans (besides beignets) is a muffuletta. And I'm a sandwich hater. Except for Po'Boys. Love those. But that's like comparing a TV dinner to maw-maw's cooking.

Assuming your maw-maw is a good cook. Mine's only so-so.

A muffuletta--pronounced Muff-uh-lot-uh in New Orleans b/c we talk funny--is a...well to make things easy, I'll call it a sandwich, but that term just doesn't cut it. It's an experience. This Above-Sandwich-Status-Sandwich is made on special muffuletta bread...a 10" round loaf. It contains the trademark Olive Salad, provolone cheese, Italian salami, Italian ham. Different places have different variations, but those are the basics.

The muffuletta is obviously an Italian sandwich (I didn't really have to tell you that, did I?), but it was created in New Orleans. I've talked about French influences on South Louisiana cooking. I've talked about African, Caribbean, Spanish, and Native American influences too. I don't think I've mentioned this large influence on New Orleans area food--Sicilian immigrants.  For a while, New Orleans had the highest Sicilian population in the US.

In addition to the muffuletta, we can also thank Italian immigrants for "red gravy"--tomato sauce for pasta, which has morphed into a blend of Creole and Italian, and St. Joseph's Day Altars. My grandpa loved St. Joseph's Day Altars and just a few years before he died, was able to host one with the help of my uncle (by marriage), Frankie G (who is of Italian descent). St. Joseph's Day Altars are displays of Italian cookies, breads, statues, flowers, fruit, and candles, set up in private homes and churches. Some are open to the public; some are private for family and friends. The purpose is to honor St. Joseph, patron saint of workers, who is thought to have ended famine in Sicily. As a child I had quite the collection of lucky fava beans, which visitors to St. Joseph's altars are welcome to take before they leave.

Muffulettas are just one of the many examples of Italian influences on New Orleans and they are also my favorite example.

The first year we were back in Louisiana, my dad took us out for lunch. It had been years since I'd had a realhonesttogoodnessauthentic muffuletta. I had some catching up to do so I did what I felt was right. Little old me ordered a half muff (which could feed 2 sensible people). That's right. A lotta muffuletta. I have no shame. I ate every last speck, including the bits of olive salad that fell off. After I finished, my dad said, "I can't believe you just ate that whole thing." "What?" I said. "I haven't had one in a long time," was my excuse.

Muffulettas aren't made in my little town, a few hours west of NO. And I can't be drivin' down to NO every time I want one either. So I've had to improvise, working with available ingredients and a modest budget...the real deal ain't cheap to make. I've come up with a faker that's turned out to be our favorite non-Po'Boy sandwich. It uses simple, inexpensive ingredients that are pretty easy to find.

So let me stress this...before I get hate mail...this is NOT the real deal.  This is what I do out of necessity because it's too far to drive to NO on a whim, and because I can't find muffuletta bread in Eunice, LA and don't know (yet) how to make it, and because I'm too cheap to pay $13 for a jar of olive salad.  I wouldn't pay $13 for a jar of anything.  Unless it was a jar of money worth more than $13.

Mise en place for a faux muffuletta: French bread, ham, salami, provolone cheese, green olives (w/ pimento), Giardiniera mix, olive oil. 
Yeah, yeah, eagle eye.  Ya'll don't let me get away with anything, I tell ya.  I used crappy Wal-mart French bread.  Normally I'm all over people about using the "right" bread. 

"Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.  (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"  Extra credit for whoever names the author and work.  No fair googling.  

First thing to do is get the olive salad ready.  It's better to do this a day or so before so the flavors can come together.  Play fair...get a little of everything out of the giardiniera mix.  Chop it and the olives and add to a bowl.  Add a little liquid from both the olives and the giardiniera.  Sometimes I also add a few dashes of olive oil and/or dried oregano.  Just depends.  On what, I don't know.

Cover and stick in the fridge over night or for a couple of days.

To make the sandwich, first heat up your broiler.  Drizzle olive oil on one side of each slice of bread.

Broil until toasted.  I could eat it just like that.  But then I'd have to start over.

Layer ham and salami on one side.  Add a nice helping of olive salad to the other.  I like to make sure a little liquid from the olive salad gets used too.  Not so much that the bread gets soggy though.

This is why I only toast one side of the that I can get a tiny bit of the olive juices to soak in.

My trick to keeping the sandwich together and keeping the majority of the olive salad on the sandwich is to put the cheese in the middle.  Lay a slice of provolone over the olive salad and another over the meat side.  When the cheese melts, it will help hold all the olivey goodness in place and help stick the two sides together.

That's right, I said I'm melting the cheese.  Traditional muffulettas aren't usually heated or if they are it's only very briefly.  The place my brother manages is one of the few that toast their muffulettas and I like 'em that way.  

I like a warm sandwich. I like melted cheese. I like cheese that's been browned under a broiler.  This isn't traditional.  It's a faux version.  And it's my lunch. 
I can make it how I want.

Place both halves of the sandwich back under the broiler until the cheese starts to brown.  Quickly place the two halves together so both slices of cheese melt into each other.

And eat.
See the gooey cheese strings between the two halves?  Just wanted to point that out.

After the camera goes away, ya'll know I'm eating those little bits, right?

This recipe is flexible.  Add as much or as little of each ingredient as you'd like.

Faux Muffuletta
from Ms. enPlace

for 4 sandwiches

The olive salad:
Heaping 1/4 cup chopped green olives w/ pimentos
Heaping 1/2 cup chopped giardiniera mix (be sure to get a little of everything)
enough liquid from both the olives and giardiniera to just submerge
splash of olive oil, if desired
pinch of dried oregano, if desired

The sandwiches:
8 slices French bread
olive oil
8 slices good quality deli ham, sliced thin
8-12 slices Genoa salami, sliced thin
8 slices provolone cheese

Combine the olives, giardiniera, and enough liquid from both to cover.  Add a splash or two of olive oil and a pinch of oregano if desired.  Store covered in the refrigerator.  Best if made a day or so before.

Heat a broiler.  Drizzle one side of each slice of bread with olive oil.  Broil bread, oiled side up, until toasted.  Watch carefully so they don't burn.

Place bread toasted side down.  Layer 2 slices of ham and 2-3 slices of salami on 4 slices of bread.  Divide the olive salad between the remaining 4 slices.  Heap it on, allowing a small amount of the liquid to seep into the bread.  Not too much or the sandwich will be soggy.  Top the meat side with a slice of cheese.  Top the olive salad side with a slice of cheese. 

Place back under the broiler until the cheese has melted and is browned in spots.  Quickly place the sandwich halves together to they stick.  Slice each sandwich in half and serve right away.


  1. I didn't know there was a special muffuletta bread. I'll have to look for a recipe. I've been wanting to make one of these at home, but my husband doesn't like olives or any other vegetable for that matter. I guess he can eat his plain and I can fix mine up like yours -with all the works!! I think it would taste great toasted, especially with melted cheese :D I can definitely see how this sandwich adds up to be expensive, but it sounds worth it!!

  2. I love muffulettas! I've never tried to make them myself.

  3. Oh my goodness, so yummy!


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