If you’ve visited this site before, you may have noticed I have a fondness for briny or pickled things. So one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans was less about Mardi Gras and more about the New Orleans famed Muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery. (I don’t want to know what this says about my psyche…)
Muffuletta is basically a type of sub or hero sandwich made with Italian deli meats, a particular type of bread, and provolone and mozzarella cheeses — but the thing that is said to set the Muffuletta apart from mere mortal sandwiches is the olive salad which is part filling, part condiment. The salad is a conglomeration of olives, pepperoncini, pickled onions, capers, veggies and assorted seasonings. Once assembled, the sandwich is wrapped and allowed to rest so the salad has a chance to permeate the bread and meats with its oily goodness and create a delicious mess. My kind of sandwich!
Anyway, earlier this year while searching the Web for something entirely different, I repeatedly came across references to Muffulettas — maybe a dozen times in one search session. As I understood it, this was a sign from the universe that I could no longer wait to visit New Orleans to sample a Muffuletta, I’d just have to make one here.
First I read a couple of dozen recipes for that key ingredient, the olive salad, and used as a starting point the one that had the highest ratings or most positive comments from others who have actually had a Muffuletta from Central Grocery. After gathering everything in the rather lengthy and pricey list of ingredients (except the bread — I did not find the right bread, and used a ciabatta instead), I realized it might be more cost effective to buy a ticket to New Orleans instead! Just kidding. Sort of.
So once the salad was made and allowed to sit overnight, I couldn’t wait to assemble the actual sandwich. Some writers were very particular about the actual order of layering the meats and cheese, something I respect because I know that can affect the final flavor. I followed this order: bread, mozzarella, provolone, ham, mortadella, genoa salami, olive salad; then dutifully wrapped my sandwich in plastic and let it sit for a couple of hours.
All in all, it was a delicious creation. And, as promised, a very messy sandwich. Was it as good as I had built it up in my mind? After 20 years of imagining and lusting after this sandwich, there’s really no way it could be. But it was worth trying, and if I do find myself in New Orleans in the future, I will still find my way to Central Grocery for the Real Thing. Despite the Bad News (see below).
The olive salad, though, is useful in many other things and I will definitely make it again. It would make a great pizza topping all by itself, and is an instant gourmet flavor boost to any tuna or chicken salad with mayo for sandwiches and wraps, or mix with macaroni or tortellini for a picnic pasta salad. Whether you decide to go for the Muffuletta or not, this olive salad is a handy fridge staple to have on hand especially with the summer picnic season just ahead.
Update: Learn more about the Sicilian heritage of the Muffuletta sandwich and how to make the traditional bread for the real thing at Rubber Slippers in Intaly.
MUFFULETTA OLIVE SALAD
(based on jenn’s Real N’awlins Muffuletta)
1/2 cup pitted green olives, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup pickled cauliflower florets and carrots (giardiniera)
2 TBL capers, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chopped pepperoncini (pickled peppers)
2 TBL chopped marinated cocktail onions
1/2 tsp raw sugar
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive container, and allow to marinate at least overnight.
The Bad News: This recipe came from allrecipes.com which has the added feature of providing nutritional information for the recipes on the site, which is a very Good thing. The bad news about the Muffuletta, though, is that one serving size (which is 1/8 of jenn’s full recipe) has a whopping 973 calories, 556 of which are from fat. But that isn’t even the worst of it — are you sitting down? — it also has 3,242mg of sodium in one serving. The sandwich in the photo above is probably just shy of 2 servings…
Another handy pickle to have in the fridge: Indian Spiced Cauliflower, Daikon & Carrot Pickle