Lately we've been taken with a classic immigrant sandwich called the Muffuletta, which was created in the early 1900s at the Central Grocery, a famous Italian market in New Orleans.
The word "muffuletta" originally referred to a round-shaped loaf of Sicilian sesame bread, which became the base for the sandwich now bearing its name. Sicilian farmers from a nearby produce market would often stop into Central Grocery for lunch to order a loaf of muffuletta, along with an assortment of Italian meats and cheeses, and a chopped olive salad.
They would then attempt to eat all of these components separately until Salvatore Lupo, the store's owner, decided to make things a little easier by putting everything together in one sandwich. Sandwiches were not typical fare in Sicilian custom at the time, and the new specialty became a hit with the farmers, who quickly named it the "muffuletta."
Tony grew up knowing muffuletta as a Sicilian bread, but it's only recently that he's become familiar with it as a sandwich, or "sang-weech," as he likes to say. The round shape is what gives this sandwich its signature, and while this traditional bread isn't available in our local markets, plenty of other round loaves are, including sourdough and artisan styles. A standard loaf is about 9 to 10 inches in diameter, which easily makes six individual servings.
Traditionally, the main ingredients in a muffuletta sandwich are a loaf of round bread, Genoa salami, mortadella (an Italian bologna), ham, sliced mozzarella and provolone cheese, and a chunky olive salad. Tony prefers to omit the ham and substitute sliced capocollo instead, and you could also add soppressata, prosciutto or any other pork-based Italian deli meat.
White, semi-hard cheeses like a tangy provolone and mild mozzarella (deli-style, not the fresh variety), work best with this sandwich, and you could also use sliced fontina or even Monterey Jack. When picking your cheese, try to find two that balance each other, and stay away from stronger cheeses like cheddar.
To assemble the sandwich, use a bread knife to cut the loaf of bread in half, horizontally. Next, in a circular fashion, place a layer of provolone cheese around the bottom piece of bread, followed by the mozzarella. Continue with a layer of salami, then the mortadella, and finally ham or capocollo, covering each layer evenly with the next.
Take the top piece of bread and spread the olive salad evenly over it, and be sure to include some of the juice. We've included a recipe for a homemade olive salad, but it includes a jar of giardiniera-style vegetables and takes at least 24 hours to marinate before serving, so we like to keep a store-bought variety on hand in our pantry. Boscoli Family brand makes a great jar of olive salad, and it's usually available at our local grocery stores.
When finished, secure the bottom piece between two hands and flip it onto the top piece of bread. Flip over again and place, bottom-side-down, on a cutting board. Press down firmly on the top and then slice into wedges to serve.
This sandwich holds up well in the refrigerator for about two days, and we thinks it's a perfect choice for picnics, graduation parties and road trips.
There are differing opinions on how to pronounce the word muffuletta, but whether you say "moo-foo-LET-ta," or "muff-uh-LOT-uh," or just "muff" like the locals in NOLA do, this sandwich is hearty enough to stand up to any name. Lately, we've been calling it delicious.
Chunky Olive Salad
1 cup green olives, pitted and rough-chopped
1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and rough-chopped
1½ tablespoons capers, chopped
½ cup Italian Giardiniera (store-bought), rough-chopped
1 teaspoon dry oregano flakes
1½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients until well mixed. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for at least 24 hours, which allows the giardiniera vegetables to soften somewhat. Store in an airtight container for at least two weeks.
1 9- or 10-inch loaf of round bread, cut in half horizontally
5 slices mozzarella cheese (not the fresh variety)
5 slices provolone cheese
6 slices Genoa salami
6 slices mortadella
6 slices capocollo
1 cup chunky olive salad (homemade or store-bought)
Layer the bottom piece of bread with provolone in a circular pattern, then do the same with the mozzarella. Continue layering with the salami, mortadella and any other meat, covering each layer evenly.
Spread a generous layer of the chunky olive salad on the top piece of bread, being sure to include some of the juices. Secure the bottom layer between two hands, and flip it onto the top layer, then flip the entire sandwich, bottom-side-down, onto a cutting board.
Press the top down firmly with your hands, and slice into six wedges to serve.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.