Muffuletta Sandwich

moof-fuh-LEHT-tuh or moo-foo-LE-ta

These sandwiches can be found all over New Orleans from delis to pool halls and the corner grocery stores. It is an Sicilian sandwich that consists of a round loaf of bread (about 10 inches across) filled with Italian salami, olive salad, cheese, Italian ham, and freshly minced garlic. The key ingredient is the olive salad which gives the sandwich its special flavor and makes it appealing to the eye. A true Muffuletta Sandwich must always be served at room temperature, never toasted; it is considered blasphemy to heat the sandwich.

The Italian Market, the Central Grocery on Decatur Street, claims to have invented this sandwich in 1906. Italian immigrant, Signor Lupo Salvatore, owner of the Central Grocery, started making the sandwiches for the men who worked the nearby wharves and produce stalls of the French Market. The sign over the covered sidewalk proudly proclaims, home of “The Original Muffuletta.”The muffuletta sandwich had its origins at Central Grocery, in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Marie’s Melting Pot, the 1980 cookbook by Marie Lupo Tusa, daughter of Central Grocery’s founder, traced the origin of the sandwich:

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.

Napoleon House is where my aunt Marjorie and Uncle Bob took me for my first Muffuletta. The Napoleon House muffuletta is considered by many to be the “other” definitive version, different from most others in that it’s heated. I personally prefer my muffulettas cold, but that said, they do an excellent sandwich here. Don’t forget to order their signature drink, the Pimm’s Cup, while you’re waiting for your muff to arrive.

Muffuletta Sandwich 

Makes 1 to 4 servings, depending on the appetite

1 round loaf Muffuletta Bread, 10-inch in diameter*
Olive Salad (see recipe below)
Extra-virgin olive oil or juice from Olive Salad
2 oz salami, thinly sliced
2 oz Italian ham, thinly sliced
2 oz Provolone cheese, thinly sliced
* Italian bread may be substituted.

Make Olive Salad. Cut bread in half crosswise and scoop out about half of the soft dough from top and bottom pieces (this is to provide more room for the sandwich ingredients). Brush the inside bottom of loaf with olive oil or juice from the Olive Salad marinade. Layer salami, Italian ham and Provolone cheese on the bottom piece. Top with as much Olive Salad as will fit without spilling out. Add top of loaf and press down slightly. Slice in quarters and serve. Always serve the Muffuletta Sandwich at room temperature, never toasted.

Olive Salad
2/3 cup pitted and coarsely-chopped green olives
2/3 cup pitted and coarsely-chopped kalamata olives
½ cup chopped pimiento
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 anchovy fillet, mashed
1 Tbs capers, drained and rinsed
½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tsp finely-chopped fresh oregano leaves
½ tsp freshly-ground pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and then allow the flavors to mingle for at least 1 hour prior to serving. Store, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to use.

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