The muffaletta, goofy as its name sounds, is a world-class sandwich which hails from New Orleans, where it is often sold as an entire loaf of bread suitable for four people of healthy appetites to enjoy. I like to think of the muffaletta as a distant relative of the Italian sub. They both layer on the various meats and cheese—ham, capicola, salami, mortadella, provolone—and rely on something piquant and lively to stand up to all that meat, whether that's hot peppers in an Italian or the famed olive salad in the muffaletta. Though it's pretty much impossible to find real muffaletta bread outside of New Orleans, Italian focaccia is very closely related, and even a regular sub roll can work.
The uniqueness comes with what goes in the olive spread painted on both sides of the bread. Ingredients can range from celery to capers to pickled cauliflower, depending on who's making it. I like to pile on roasted bell peppers along with the olives, but whatever goes into the spread, the important part is the "resting" stage. I can't think of any other sandwich that actually improves after it's made, but resting is essential for a muffaletta. Make it, wrap it in plastic, and let the olive-y juices soak into the loaf. Of course, it's pretty tasty right after you make it, but it really does get better as it sits, as the flavors mingle and you get just the right balance of softness and crustiness.
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- For the Olive Salad
- 1 cup pitted olives, preferably a mix, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced shallots
- 1 tablespoon minced celery
- 1/2 cup roasted red pepper strips
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, dried, and roughly chopped
- 2 to 3 Italian hot pickled peppers (such as pepperoncini), chopped (optional)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- For the Sandwich
- 1 loaf focaccia, halved lengthwiseok
- 4 ounces salami, thinly sliced
- 4 ounces capicola, thinly sliced
- 4 ounces mortadella, thinly sliced
- 4 ounces provolone cheese, thinly sliced
Combine olives, shallot, celery, red peppers, capers, hot peppers (if using) and olive oil in a small bowl. Stir to combine. Season to taste with vinegar, salt, and pepper.
Tear out some of the doughy insides of the bread if it's especially thick, and lay bread slices down face up on cutting board. Spoon olive mixture on both top and bottom halves. Layer meat and cheese onto bottom half, then top with top half. Cut into quarters and serve immediately, or for better flavor, wrap in plastic and allow bread to soak up juices for one hour before serving.