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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
balsamic vinegar

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.


This Post Has 30 Comments
  1. This is an authentic recipe like the one used at Central Grocery in New Orleans. Your’s looks very good btw and that’s from a native New Orleanian.
    For the olive salad:
    * 1 gallon large pimento stuffed green olives, slightly crushed and well drained
    * 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
    * 1 jar cocktail onions, drained

  2. Nice!
    Man, I haven’t had a sandwich that beautiful in years!
    You can either buy Giardiniera bottled at Italian Delis or make it yourself. Then just run it through a food processor to get a coarse chop and add some minced pitted olives.

  3. Rachel: Let me fetch you a tissue … 🙂
    Jessica: Excellent — I look forward to making that the next go-round, and you know there will be a next go-round.
    Erik: Great suggestion for a quick-and-dirty but still authentic version of the olive salad. Could eat that by the spoonful.

  4. You know sometimes that feeling of envy you get when you read someone’s food blog, where you are dying of jealousy at the gorgeous food they’re eating?
    Yeah, like that.
    Which is hilarious considering that I actually had a slab of that deeeelicious sandwich. 😀

  5. Well, it’s best if you make the pickled veggies yourself. The vinegar they use in the jarred stuff tends to be a bit on the harsh side. Just cut up some veggies, put them in a heat proof container, boil up some brine, pour it over, and weight them down with a plate. Couple hours or overnight, and you’ll be good to go.

  6. I’ve had many a muffuletta in my day, since I am fortunate enough to have lived in New Orleans all my life. I have received a sandwich that appeared to have been placed under a heavy book for several hours. Had that been the case I would have likely sent it back. 🙂 each his own

  7. I reside in New Orleans myself, Vivian, and I can say that I have NEVER seen an establishment so brazen in this city as to serve a flat muffuletta. I would hope that wherever you had the misfortune to improperly choose your eating establishment that you would find a real muffuletta like the Central Grocery or perhaps even try the Frenchuletta, a concoction at Liuzza’s on Bienville which uses french bread instead of the more traditional.

  8. Balshazar, You knew entirely that my entry contained a minor typo, and have seen me send back many a dish at Galatoire’s if I find fault. If you could put down your glass of bourbon for just a moment, perhaps then you would be able to make sense of an otherwise wholly intelligible paragraph.

  9. Woman, you wouldn’t send your dish back at Galatoire’s for fear that any of your “society” friends see you acting in a type of manner unbecoming of a lady. The shame of complaining being too much for your delicate burdens. My drinking Bourbon is the only way your nagging can ever make any sense.

  10. This recipe serves 1, right?
    Central Grocery rocks. And they’ll do a vegetarian muffuletta if your vegetarian friend wants it to be so.

  11. Though I’ve never had reason to buy it and so have no idea how it measures up, I have seen jarred Muffuletta salad at Trader Joe’s, on the shelf with the olives and pickles and such. That sammich looks scrumptious, even to this vegetarian.

  12. Jason: Mmmm…sangweech. That’s what I’m tawkin’ bout.
    Vivian and Balshazar: Thanks for the mini-episode of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. 🙂 Brightened my day.
    Brenda: I’m almost speechless at the thought of a vegetarian version. I mean … how?
    Jenn: See above, but I have to side with you. I mean, the only way it could be any meatier is if they replaced the bread with meat. And then it would be Spanish.
    FM: Do you think Muffuletta would be so benign in its licensure? I’m not so sure.
    Arin: OK, you’ve just intrigued me mightily. I will simply have to try it! (P.S. How’s the little one?)

  13. Aw c’mon, Sam. I bet if you look a little to the east you could find hardy enough eaters, maybe in the former Eastern Bloc?

  14. maybe – but I like the french best – they have the butter to meat ratio just perfect! (The butter is cut like cheese, one thin slice of meat, the freshest baguette, perfect.)

  15. Max — actually, my recipe is derived by comparing quite a few recipes, and winging it with the resources available. Rachel’s recipe calls specifically for the olive salad I mentioned, as opposed to the version I conjured up. Beyond that, the presence of a variety of cold cuts and bread make this recipe no more or less similar than any other, like this one or this one or any other for that matter.

  16. Tell me, how on earth did you make your way to this three-year-old recipe if you weren’t looking for muffulettas? Or were you going out of your way to find things that make you puke?

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