Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Muffuletta on My Mind

A week ago I was in New Orleans celebrating Mardi Gras. Any time I go to New Orleans I have to have a muffuletta, preferably from the Mecca for all aficionados of this sandwich, Central Grocery. If you don’t know what it is, it is a round sandwich of ham, salami, Provolone and Swiss cheese with olive salad. The olive salad is what sets it apart from a submarine or hoagie.

Its roots are in the large Italian-American community that inhabited the French Quarter in the early part of the 20th Century. What makes it special is you really can’t get a real muffuletta outside of New Orleans. Why is that? The distinctive flat, round bread the sandwich is made on, not surprisingly called a muffuletta loaf. Unlike traditional Italian or French bread, it’s more chewy than crispy. Inevitably when you find a muffuletta elsewhere it’s made on French Bread, and more often than not, will break your jaw when you bite into it.

Sometimes I just gotta have one and have experimented with a lot of substitutes for the bread. The best I’ve come up with is focaccia—texture’s better but the shape is all wrong. Or, I will use what they call a “rustic loaf” of French breach—thinner and flatter. I also use Kaiser rolls to make mini muffies, cutting them into quarters for finger food. Regardless, the finished sandwich needs to be wrapped in foil, a weight put on top and allowed to stand for a couple of hours before serving

In New Orleans the muffuletta is made with “Italian ham”—not prosciutto but a local product of boiled ham with a spice rub. If you make your own, boiled ham will work just fine. And, don’t go upscale with imported, expensive salami. The muffuletta is simple fare at its best.

You can buy olive salad in N.O. but not here so I’ve included a recipe. Traditionally, the sandwich is served cold but there are a handful of restaurants including the Napoleon House that serve a toasted version: unorthodox but not heresy.

The combination of flavors is a classic and Emeril has a great recipe for a muffuletta salad and Jim Schiavo of The Continental and I came up with our own recipe for a muffuletta pizza which is on the menu there.

What to eat with a muffuletta? Zapp’s Potato Chips (preferably the jalapeƱo flavored variety), of course (which they often have at Jenifer Street Market).

BTW Central Grocery ships their sandwiches via FedEx.

Central Grocery Olive Salad Recipe

1 gallon large pimento stuffed green olives, slightly crushed, well drained and chopped
1 quart jar pickled cauliflower, drained and sliced
2 small jars capers, drained
1 whole stalk celery, sliced diagonally
4 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced diagonally
1 small jar celery seeds
1 small jar oregano
1 large head fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 jar pepperoncini, drained (small salad peppers) left whole
1 pound large Greek black olives, chopped
1 jar cocktail onions, drained

Combine all the ingredients.

Makes a lot.

Olive Salad (Smaller Recipe)

1¼-inch slice of medium red onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup picked Italian vegetables
¼ cup green pimento-stuffed olives
¼ cup pitted Calamata olives
¼ cup pitted Greek olives
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
6 sprigs Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the onion in the food processor and turn the machine on and off until it is evenly chopped. With the motor running, drop the garlic through the feed tube and process until finely chopped.

Add the pickled vegetables, olives, olive oil, oregano, parsley and black pepper to the food processor. Turn the machine on and off just until the mixture is nicely chopped.

Transfer to a covered container and chill overnight. The olive salad will keep several weeks covered in the refrigerator.
Makes a reasonable amount.

No comments: