Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Least Vegetarian Sandwich Ever.
Yes, friends, lest there be any fear that I should slip back into my vegetarian ways (not that it wouldn’t be a good idea!), I opted to make the meatiest sandwich I could imagine to anchor our sun-dappled day at Bouchaine.
To be fair, I didn’t really make a true muffuletta. This mighty meaty ‘wich, native to New Orleans, is traditionally made with a large, round loaf of crusty bread, a variety of cured meats and cheeses (typically capicola, salami, mortadella, emmenthaler and provolone, according to Wikipedia) and — most importantly — olive salad. This salad of course has olives, but also carrots, cauliflower and celery; its dressing is meant to saturate the bread.
But here’s the thing: You can purchase this olive salad quite readily in the delis of New Orleans, but around these parts not so much. And as I was already in the throes of making a few other courses, I really wanted to cut a corner here. So I just combined tapenades of green and black olives with some rinsed and drained capers, and voilà.
Also, the muffs in New Orleans are jaw-breakingly tall, sometimes reaching several inches in height toward the center. In the interest of daintiness and easier portioning, I used a ciabatta, which retained an even thickness and allowed for more consistent cutting.
The resulting sandwich has a stunning display of pink-and-white strata, kind of like layers of sedimentary rock, if the earth’s crust were made of meat and cheese. Which, for better or worse, it is not.
I ended up making, oh, about 20 times as much of the olive spread as I needed, so it has casually made its way into almost everything I’ve made since — a dollop in salad dressing, gobs smeared under and atop the skin of a roasted chicken, a touch thrown into braising liquid. It’s a remarkably versatile condiment, lending a fruity and complex flavor to everything it touches.
or, my version thereof
1/4 lb each mortadella, salami, prosciutto, provolone and mozzarella (or whatever cold cuts you prefer)
1 ciabatta loaf
1 jar black olive tapenade
1 jar green olive tapenade
1 jar capers
Drain and rinse the capers. In a large bowl, mix the drained capers and two jars of tapenade until well combined.
Slice the loaf horizontally and tear out the crumb, leaving hollowed-out halves. Drizzle the bread with balsamic (the real stuff, please, not that caramel-colored syrup). Spread the olive mix all over the bread with a spatula; really lay it on and make sure you get it well covered. Lay on the cold cuts, going all the way to, and even slightly over, the edges of the bread. Put the bread top back on, wrap the sandwich well in cling wrap, and put a heavy weight on top, like a large book or a tray with a couple cans of tomatoes. Let rest for an hour or so. Unwrap, cut and serve.