The Italian week begins today in our city and I’m sure hundreds of ‘sexy backs’ will be lining up soon for that ”screw-the-diet-it’s-once-a-year-only” sfogliatelle testing, La Traviata and Fellini’s film festival. Which gives me an idea that it’s time to reveal my favorite Italian-American travel companion originating from New Orleans – the Muffuletta sandwich and its star ingredient: the olive salad. The ingenious mix arguably created by Salvatore Lupo, the Sicilian deli store keeper, a century ago: crushed olives, minced garlic, chopped giardiniera (a mixture of pickled vegetables), celery, carrots, parsley, capers and spices soaked in the olive oil is exactly what makes this anti-Zen sandwich so irresistible. The classic Muffuletta is made with seeded Italian bread split and layered with this salad, spicy Capicola ham, Genoa salami, Mortadella and layers of thinly sliced Provolone, Mozzarella or Swiss cheeses. This time I made it with baguette, but a softer & spongier bread variety, such as, focaccia (feel free to use gluten-free focaccia) would be a much better choice. Unless you can find or bake a true Sicilian sesame bread as the staple recipe requires.
Maria Lupo Tusa, daughter of the Central Grocery’s founder, tells her story of the sandwich in her 1980 cookbook, ”Marie’s Melting Pot”: ”One of the most interesting aspects of my father’s grocery is his unique creation, the muffuletta sandwich. The muffuletta was created in the early 1900’s when the Farmers’ Market was in the same area as the grocery. Most of the farmers who sold their produce there were Sicilian. Every day they used to come of my father’s grocery for lunch. They would order some salami, some ham, a piece of cheese, a little olive salad, and either long braided Italian bread or round muffuletta bread. In typical Sicilian fashion they ate everything separately. The farmers used to sit on crates or barrels and try to eat while precariously balancing their small trays covered with food on their knees. My father suggested that it would be easier for the farmers if he cut the bread and put everything on it like a sandwich; even if it was not typical Sicilian fashion. He experimented and found that the thicker, braided Italian bread was too hard to bite but the softer round muffuletta was ideal for his sandwich. In very little time, the farmers came to merely ask for a “muffuletta” for their lunch.”
|Salvatore Lupo in Central Grocery (top), Muffuletta sandwich now & New Orleans of That Time via Wikimedia Commons
The Muffuletta sandwich has been our travel hubby for a few years now and I can hardly think of any better fit for a road or a long-haul flight. I guess whatever was the lowdown
that pushed the airlines to stop serving meals on domestic flights, it was for good since it made the hungry travelers experiment with the road snacks and seek for some good food alternatives that can actually enhance the positive side of the travel. Now, why Muffuletta sandwich? Why not Cuban or Reuben or Philly? Three reasons: a) because of that garlic-spiked olive salad layer and all kind of savoury Italian deli cold cuts and cheese in it; b) because it travels well (without mayo or mustard in it) – the bread’s taste actually gets better when soaked with the olive spread; c) because it is huge, so it’s great for sharing.
Here is a scientific explanation why: the research shows that our taste buds become almost insensitive during the flight. At 35,000 feet altitude a good portion of our taste buds switch off and most of the neutral food start tasting the same. However, since our tongue has between 2000 and 8000 of these buds, we can still recognize the five taste elements, including: salty, sour, bitter, sweet and umami. And although our perceptions become little different, the tiny tongue receptors will be able to catch the Muffuletta’s goodness. Not to mention the smell: just bring it on a plane, unwrap it and you will see how many pairs of eyes will ignite around you once the coach class fills up with the bouquet of an Italian market. And how timely it will feel when surviving a storm, or a delayed flight, or an exhausting road trip! For a split second, you might actually agree that it might be the best sandwich in America…
If possible, make the olive salad few days in advance to let the flavours marry in the fridge. Chop fresh celery, carrots and olives coarsely. Mix them with drained and coarsely chopped marinated (giardiniera) ingredients. Add garlic and olive oil and mix well. Pack into a clean (preferably sterilized) jar and let the salad sit in the fridge until you are ready to make a sandwich. My tip: add a spoon of the fish sauce or minced anchovies to have that BRINY state jumpstart in your olive salad (you will taste the difference). Tip No. 2: if using baguette or other crusted bread, cut out a slight niche for a salad as seen in the image. Spread some olive oil on both halves of the bread, then layer one half with the olive salad, the cold cuts and the cheese. Here is a good 1-minute video instruction from chef Paul
in New Orleans.
The sandwich gets better the longer it sits, so wrap it in a wax or butcher paper that will keep moisture inside and allow the olive salad to marinate the bread in the sandwich for at least few hours in the fridge.
THE MUFFULETTA OLIVE SALAD
2 cups pimento stuffed green olives, well drained and crushed
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, well drained and crushed
1 cup jar pickled cauliflower/or mix w/banana peppers, drained and coarsely chopped
1 cup jar pickled pepperoncini, drained and left whole
1/2 cup cocktail onions, drained and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup jar pickled capers, drained
1 cup finely chopped carrots
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 head fresh garlic peeled and minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce or 2 minced anchovies (optional)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a large and mix well. Place in a large jar and store tightly covered in refrigerator. Allow to marinate for at least 24 hours before using.
Tip: apart from Muffuletta sandwich, I successfully use this olive salad as antipasti or side dish by adding some freshly chopped carrots, celery and a splash of olive oil.
THE MUFFULETTA SANDWICH
1 round loaf Italian bread or Focaccia
1/4 pound Mortadella, thinly sliced
1/4 pound spicy Capicollo, thinly sliced
1/4 pound hard Genoa salami, thinly sliced
1/4 pound Mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1/4 pound Provolone cheese, thinly sliced
1 cup olive salad with oil
Split a loaf of Italian bread horizontally. Spread each half with equal parts of olive salad and oil. Place cold cuts and cheeses evenly on bottom half and cover with top half of bread. Cut in quarters. Enjoy!
Adapted from the combination of my old notes on authentic Muffuletta from New Orleans and Saveur.com