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The muffaletta is just a sandwich. Or is it? That's kind of like calling prosciutto di Parma "just ham." This Sicilian transplant turned Italian-American came to New Orleans with the first group of immigrants to arrive in the city, according to Lidia Bastianich, author of Lidia's Italy in America and host of the popular television show of the same name on PBS.
As with other iconic foods, everyone seems to have their own version, and that's true even with the spelling. Google "muffaletta" and you'll see that this sandwich also goes by "muffuletta." Spelling squabbles aside, though, most versions will have at the very least a combination of Italian meats, cheeses, and an olive salad, served on a soft sesame-seed bread that's also called muffaletta. Bastianich believes it to be a relative of the bread used for pane ca'meusa, a sandwich popular in Palermo, Sicily. Muffaletta bread is tough to find outside of New Orleans, though, so many places outside of the Big Easy make do with focaccia or sesame-seed sub rolls.
What meats and cheeses are used? Generally, you can expect to find ham, capicola, mortadella, salami, provolone, and mozzarella — a laundry list of ingredients that would seem to necessitate a trip to an Italian deli, but is probably easily found in a Boar's Head joint (sorry, anti-Boar's Head elitists). The composition of the olive salad also varies; most versions, however, will have at least a mixture of pitted green and black olives, marinated artichoke hearts, capers, anchovy fillets, dried oregano, and peperoncino flakes tossed together with red-wine vinegar and olive oil. Then, to this, some versions add giardiniera (Italian pickled vegetables) and some don't, opting instead for shredded fresh carrot and celery together with roasted red peppers, pickled onions, and pepperoncini. The salad is refrigerated until flavors meld, usually overnight for best results. The point is to make a tangy, salty, mixture with some heat that will soak into the bread and serve as a foil for the rich, fatty meats and cheeses. A good muffaletta will have alternating layers of meats, cheese, and olive salad throughout the sandwich that are constructed rather than just piled on, creating a symphony of flavors with each bite. This sandwich is definitely not svelte fare, but it is delicious.
Who makes the best muffaletta in New Orleans? Even that's up for debate. Bastianich votes for Central Grocery in the French Quarter, where they have been making it since 1906, and which claims to be the "Home of the Original Muffuletta" on their sign outside the store. Bobby Flay, though, paid a visit to Serio's Po'Boys & Deli, where he had a Throwdown with the owners Jack and Mike Serio, whose recipe has been passed down through three generations. If you happen to find yourself in the Big Easy anytime soon, don't leave without trying both versions.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.
Muffuletta Sandwich Recipe and History
Muffuletta Sandwiches can be found all over New Orleans from delis to pool halls and also at 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.
History of Muffuletta 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.
Marie Lupo Tusa, daughter of the The Central Grocery’s founder, tells the story of the sandwich’s origin in her 1980 cookbook, Marie’s Melting Pot:
One of the most interesting aspects of my father’s grocery is his unique creation, the muffuletta sandwich. The mufuletta 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. Everyday 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 ticker, 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.
To this day, tourists and locals line up at both stores out into the street, waiting for their sandwiches. Muffulettas are more than just sandwiches, they’re a tourist attraction, especially during Mardi Gras.
Origins of the Muffaletta Sandwich
The muffaletta sandwich was popularized in New Orleans in the 1900s, but few people know that it actually began as a bread. The sandwich came much later. Sicilian bakers had been making muffaletto bread for centuries, but it wasn’t until Italian immigrants came to New Orleans that the sandwich came to life.
We can thank Salvatore Lupo for this incredible sandwich. He owned Central Grocery Co., and saw his customers buying the muffaletto bread and meats and cheese to eat together and realized an opportunity. Instead of watching customers struggle to hold everything all at once, he made things easier for them and created the muffaletta sandwich. The idea was finalized in 1906, and since then it has become a staple of New Orleans culture.
How To Make A Muffuletta Sandwich
The muffuletta is an Italian sandwich that originated among the Italian immigrants of New Orleans, it’s a mighty, hefty sandwich that has only has three very important components, bread, a spicy olive salad and Italian charcuterie.
With Super Bowl coming up next weekend I thought this might be the perfect addition to your game day snacking table, but if not, please keep this in mind for summertime, it’s great for picnics and get-togethers.
Don’t skimp on quality when making your muffuletta you want to make sure you have the best bread you can find, a round loaf is traditional, along with fresh meats and cheese. For my muffuletta I went with a good salami, some mortadella, a spicy capicollo and a picante provolone, all sliced thin, but feel free to use your favorite cuts.
The main component is really this olive salad, you can either make your own or buy a muffuletta mix from a good Italian deli/store. I do a mixture of both, I buy a mix but add fresh ingredients into mine, but basically the salad consists of, Italian black and green olives, and a giardiniera mix of different veggies. In addition I like to add roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts to mine and always fresh chopped celery, parsley, oregano and good olive oil.
It’s very simple to make, don’t be intimidated! Slice your round loaf horizontally then pull out some of the dense inside of the bread because you need room for all that filling to fit inside, save those insides for fresh breadcrumbs.
Spread that delicious olive salad all over the bottom and top portions of your sliced bread, then it’s all about layering.
I like to put the cheese down first over the olive salad, it seems to cover it nicely and gives you a nice base for your layers, then go from there. I added olive salad in between some of my layers but you don’t have to, you can just have it on the top and bottom.
When you’re done layering, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and weigh it down, this is important because it will help distribute all the flavors together nicely. As you can see I used my heavy cast iron pan and added some cans on top to weigh it down even more.
Let it sit for two hours before unwrapping and cutting into it, don’t let it sit overnight because the bread might become soggy from the oils, you want to keep your bread nice and crusty.
Then cut it into wedges and enjoy! I cut mine quite big for the picture but honestly a small slice is better when serving other things along side it, it’s so densely filled that you couldn’t possibly eat such a huge wedge unless this was your only main course. It’s definitely a show stopper and it also feeds a crowd!
Combine Calabrian chiles, shallot, garlic, both olives, piquillo peppers, oil, capers, vinegar, and oregano in a medium bowl season with salt and pepper.
Do Ahead: Olive salad can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
Split bread in half along the equator line. Divide olive salad, including any liquid, between halves. Lay salami on bottom half of bread, followed by capocollo, provolone, mozzarella, mortadella, and prosciutto. Close sandwich and wrap tightly in plastic. Place between 2 baking sheets and weigh down with a heavy pot or two to flatten slightly. Let sit at room temperature, turning over halfway, 1–3 hours before cutting into wedges to serve.
How would you rate The BA Muffuletta?
delicious! of course it's not the same as having it in new orleans, but close enough for cleveland. it pays to get good luncheon meat and taking the time to weigh down the sandwich.
Recipes you want to make. Cooking advice that works. Restaurant recommendations you trust.
How to Make a Muffaletta Sandwich
A Muffaletta Sandwich is basically a peasant-style loaf of round bread filled with olive salad, mortadella, salami, and provolone cheese.
Meats Reflect the Italian Heritage
The best Muffaletta Sandwiches feature freshly-sliced meats and cheeses. Be sure to ask the deli clerk to cut the meats and cheeses on the thin side, or your sandwich will be too big to eat! Some folks add ham. Others use prosciutto instead of mortadella, a bologna-style meat containing at least 15% chunks of pork fat. (Yep, this is not for the calorie-conscious!)
Olive Salad is a Must in a Muffuletta
It&rsquos not a Muffaletta if it doesn&rsquot feature olive salad. Olive tapenade isn&rsquot a good substitute &mdash it won&rsquot have the same bite that the New Orleans version does. Fortunately, it&rsquos an easy spread to make.
Just pulse black and green olives, capers, garlic, flat-leaf parsley, olive oil, and red wine vinegar in your food processor. Or chop everything by hand if you&rsquod rather. Then stir in the oil and more vinegar. Let the prepared olive salad sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes (or up to 4 hours) for the flavors to combine. That really brings it all together you won&rsquot regret it.
Muffaletta Olive Spread
Spiced, chopped olives in oil makes a great secret ingredient in muffaletta sandwiches or a tapenade-style topping for crackers or bruschetta.
The muffuletta bread has origins in Sicily. 
The muffuletta sandwich is said to have been created in 1906 at Central Grocery Co. on Decatur Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., by its delicatessen owner Salvatore Lupo, a Sicilian immigrant.   Another Italian-style New Orleans delicatessen, Progress Grocery Co., originally opened in 1924 by the Perrone family, claims the origin of the muffuletta is uncertain. 
The traditional-style muffuletta sandwich consists of a muffuletta loaf  split horizontally and covered with layers of marinated muffuletta-style olive salad,  salami, ham, Swiss cheese, provolone, and mortadella.  Quarter, half, and full-sized muffulettas are sold.  
The signature olive salad consists of olives diced with the celery, cauliflower and carrot found in a jar of giardiniera, seasoned with oregano and garlic, covered in olive oil, and allowed to combine for at least 24 hours. 
A muffuletta is usually served cold, but many vendors will toast it. 
The name is believed to be a diminutive form of muffe ("mold", "mushroom"), perhaps due to the round sandwich bread being reminiscent of a mushroom cap or from muffola, "muff, mitten,".   The forms muffoletta and its iterations are modern Italianisms of the original Sicilian. Like many of the foreign-influenced terms found in New Orleans, pronunciation has evolved from a phonetic forebear.
Muffaletta Sandwich Recipe (serves four):
A rounded loaf of bread (semolina, sour dough, basic Italian, seeded or not)
¼ lb. salami sliced
¼ lb. mortadella (or bologna) sliced
¼ lb. capicola (or ham) sliced
⅛ lb. provolone cheese sliced
⅛ lb. Swiss cheese sliced
1 cup olive salad (or to taste) + oil from the jar
Slice the bread horizontally into even halves
Drizzle olive oil from the olive salad over interior of both halves of the bread
Layer first the meats then the cheeses over the bottom half of the bread
Spread the olive salad evenly over the meats and cheeses
Top the sandwich with the remaining half of bread
Seal the sandwich in plastic wrap and weight with books or anything that applies gentle pressure. This can be done in the refrigerator overnight or on the counter for an hour.
Remove from plastic, slice into four even pieces serve one piece per person.
Olive salad can be found in Italian markets or ordered online. To make your own:
1 cup green olives with Pimentos, sliced
1 cup black olives, pitted and sliced
1 cup Gardiniera (pickled cauliflower, carrots, celery, pepperoncino)*
1 Tbsp. capers, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, chopped
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup Roasted red peppers
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl or jar, cover or seal and allow to marinate for at least 24 hours before using.
*Giardiniera can also be found in Italian groceries or online. To make at home, improvise with the ingredients you can find, leaving any out if necessary.