Get a taste of New Orleans with a classic muffuletta sandwich! Layered with Genoa Salami, Mortadella (Italian bologna), Capicola (ham), Provolone, Mozzarella, and a homemade olive salad, this indulgent sandwich is worthy of a celebration.
Who’s ready to feast for Mardi Gras? They don’t call it “Fat Tuesday” for nothing, so get your finest stretchy pants ready and be prepared to indulge! Pre-Lenten festivities are held across the globe, but here in the States, New Orleans is the epicenter of the Mardi Gras tradition. There are so many fantastic dishes associated with this yearly celebration; from King Cakes and Jambalaya, to Dirty Rice and Pimm’s Cups. One of my favorites has always been the Muffuletta. At its roots, muffuletta is some of the best components of an Italian antipasto platter wrapped up into a sandwich of epic proportions. Its impressive layers of thinly-sliced meats and cheeses, paired with an olive salad spread, pack a huge flavor punch. Muffuletta is perfect for serving a crowd for Mardi Gras, feeding hungry game day goers, or really any time the sandwich craving comes knocking.
The origins of the Muffuletta sandwich trace to Sicilian immigration to New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century, and the iconic Central Grocery. Check out this interesting piece from New Orleans Historical detailing the sandwich’s history for a more in-depth look. Traditionally, muffuletta is served on a sesame-seeded Italian round that is soft in texture and not overly thick. This exact style of bread can be difficult to find outside of New Orleans. As you can see from the photos, I substituted an 8-inch round boule from my local bakery. Focaccia rounds and ciabatta also work well for this sandwich. You don’t want a bread with a thick, heavy crust; it will be too difficult to eat. If the interior of your round, like mine, is on the “breadier” side, it’s best to hollow it out a bit to have the best filling-to-bread ratio.
The most recognizable component of the muffuletta sandwich, aside from the bread, is the olive salad. If you have the time to make the salad the day before (it only takes a few minutes in a food processor), and let it marinate overnight, your flavor reward will be huge. I make my salad with a mix of antipasto olives, a traditional pickled vegetable relish called Giardiniera, shallots, capers, and herbs. Giardiniera typically contains cauliflower, carrots, celery, and peppers. It’s salty, tangy, and just a little bit spicy (though, markedly “hot” varieties can be purchased as well). You can find it in the International aisle of many groceries, the self-serve antipasto bar, or at specialty Italian markets. Giardiniera can also be made at home, something I haven’t gotten a chance to do yet, but is on my “must try” list for soon.
One last thing: for the perfect muffuletta, patience is key. Weighting down the assembled sandwich (I use a grill press or a cast iron skillet) for an hour’s rest gives the oil and vinegar in the olive salad a chance to absorb into the bread. (Hello, deliciousness!) It also helps compress the layers for slicing beautiful wedges. So, hands off for an hour! It’s a cruel request, and I know you will be hangry with me. I mean, I was hangry with me while cooking for this post. A few bites of the well-rested sandwich and I’m pretty sure I heard my tastebuds singing choruses of muffuletta glory. So, go! Get your Mardi Gras on with a taste of New Orleans!
Building your Mardi Gras menu? Check out these recipes that caught my eye around the Web.
Crawfish Etouffée (Saveur)
Cajun Shrimp and Andouille with California Avocado (Souffle Bombay for California Avocado Blog)
Mardi Gras Grilled Oysters (Garlic & Zest)
How to Make a King Cake for Mardi Gras (Kitchn)
Pimm’s Cup Cocktail (The Gastronom)
Potato and Chorizo Stew (Nomageddon)
New Orleans-Style Chicory Beignets (Food & Wine)