Muffuletta: King of sandwiches?

A large part of traveling is eating.  How can you really know a place if you don’t become familiar with the local treats? And that includes sandwiches.

We’ve sampled a lot of them: lobster rolls in Maine and Martha’s Vineyard; Cheese steaks and Roast Pork in Philly; Italian Beef in Chicago; Amighetti’s in St. Louis; Fat Burger in L.A. and let’s not forget Trenton’s own Pork Roll and Cheese.

But one thing we never miss when in New Orléans is a Muffuletta. When made right, with good quality meats and cheese and an excellent olive salad, I’ll put this sandwich up against all others.  Strangely, though, you can seldom find it available outside of the Crescent City.

A large round loaf of bread sliced in half horizontally and filled with Italian lunchmeats (usually, capicola, genoa salame, mortadella), provolone cheese and a wonderful dressing of olive salad.  There is something about this sandwich that beats all others.

Central Grocery in the French Quarter is often considered the home of this wonderful sandwich…and indeed we’ve visited many times.  Good examples can be found elsewhere in the Big Easy as well.

What’s even better is the fact that you can make your own easily enough.  The lunch meats are readily available just about anywhere in the country, as are decent round loaves of Italian bread.  The one glitch is the olive salad. 

Sure, you can order it from Central Grocery via any number of internet sites.

Muffuletta olive salad in the works

But you can also make your own.

I’ve been making it for years from a recipe found in Cajun-Creole Cooking by Terry Thompson.  (one of my favorite cook books, by the way).

  • 1 (32-oz) jar broken green (unstuffed) olives
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 (3 1/4 oz) jars marinated cocktail onions, drained
  • 4 celery stalks, halved lengthwise, sliced thin
  • 1 (4 oz) jar chopped pimentos, drained
  • 2 tablespoons chopped capers, drained
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Drain olives, reserving 3 tablespoons brine. In a medium bowl, combine olives, garlic, onions, celery, pimentos and capers. In a small bowl, whisk reserved olive brine, oregano, pepper and vinegar until combined.  Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly, Pour dressing over salad; toss. Spoon into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate until served or up to 3 weeks. Serve at room temperature.  Makes about 5 cups.

The finished salad ready to be jarred and put in the fridge to marinate

Once you’ve assembled the ingredients it takes little time to produce a batch of good, really good, olive salad.  Make it up at least a day ahead of when you want to use it to give the flavors a chance to marinate and meld together.

Then go out and get yourself the meat and cheese and bread to build a muffuletta of your own. That’s exactly what I plan to do as soon as we dig out from today’s snow storm. 

Just in case I can’t get out right away, the salad is also good tossed with fresh cooked pasta or as a topping on pizza.

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