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Classic Muffaletta Sandwich

[Photographs: Blake Royer]

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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