One of my favorite sandwiches in this big wide world is a good New Orleans style muffaletta. Like most muffaletta virgins, I had my first at Central Grocery in the French Quarter. Once you’ve dined at the birthplace of any great food, nothing else will ever compare. And while our version comes pretty close, you should definitely stop by Central the next time you’re in the French Quarter and try the original. It’s a N’Awlins tradition – like Mardi Gras parades with beads, beignets at Cafe du Monde, or hurricanes at Pat O’Briens. Nobody does food and fun like New Orleans, but here’s how we try to harness the party at our house.
NanaBread’s Muffaletta Sandwich:
1 round sourdough bread boule
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound thin-sliced deli ham (not a sweet one; use old-fashioned baked ham)
4 slices of provolone cheese
1/3 cup of mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip, people; use the good stuff)
1 small can of chopped black olives (4.25 ozs.; you only need half of the can)
24 small pimento-stuffed green olives
2 Tbsp. of juice from the green olive jar (trust me)
3 Tbsp. Italian Olive Salad Mix (optional, but use it if you can find it)
Start by slicing your sourdough boule horizontally; you’ll want the bottom to be about 1″ thick. Using your fingers or a spoon, remove some of the excess bread from the top, leaving a deep indentation in the dome of your boule. Drizzle one tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil over each half of the bread. If you need to, use your fingers to work the oil out to the edges and into the nooks and crannies. Place both halves oiled side down on a griddle until the bread is a beautiful golden brown. (If you don’t have a griddle, a non-stick skillet works just as well.) I also like to weigh down the top so the surface is pressed down onto the griddle.
While the bread is toasting, chop the green olives, open the can of black olives, and spoon out 3 tablespoons of Italian Olive Salad mix; set aside. One quick side note about the Italian Olive Salad: you may be wondering why I use olives AND an olive salad mix together. The answer is that the olive salad mix also contains a mouth-watering mix of other vegetables (cauliflower, peppers, carrots, celery) and spices preserved in olive oil. Do you have to use it? No. But if you can find it, the olive salad will add another extraordinary layer of flavor. Trust me.
Once your bread is toasted to a beautiful, crispy golden brown, remove it from the griddle and place both sides face up on a cutting board. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise and olive juice and blend until smooth (it will be a little on the thin side). Dress each half of the bread with the mayonnaise mixture. Make sure you spread it all the way out to the edges. It’s imperative. Okay, really it’s just so all the olives stick. Next, sprinkle your green olives and olive salad on the top half, and the black olives on the bottom half. Don’t fret about separating friends. They’re all coming to the party in the end. You’ll see.
Layer your thin-sliced ham over the top of your black olives, making sure the ham goes all the way out to the edges again. (Remember – no honey or maple glazed ham, please! It will ruin the flavor of the sandwich. You really just need a simple old-fashioned or baked deli ham here.) Arrange your provolone cheese slices over the top of your green olives. Place both halves face-up on a baking sheet and toast them under the broiler until the ham warms and the cheese turns into this gooey, gorgeous golden hue. Remove from the broiler.
Using a spatula, flip the top half onto the bottom half to bring your sandwich together. Everyone is at the party now, and they are all getting along famously. It’s world peace in a sourdough boule. Allow your muffaletta to rest for at least 5 minutes before you cut it. It will be hard. It may even seem impossible. If you need a distraction, grab an Abita Beer, a bag of Zapp’s Cajun Crawtator chips, and a handful of napkins. Once you’re ready, grab a serrated bread knife and cut the muffaletta into wedges, like you’re slicing a pie. Mmmmm….pie.
Don’t get fancy here and try to serve this on a real plate. This is bar hopping food. You want to slap that sucker on a paper plate or wrap it in a little butcher paper. Then settle in with your muffaletta, your cold Abita beer, that bag of zesty, crunchy Cajun crawtators and let your mind slip away to an enchanted land of live oaks, Spanish moss, warm breezes, hot beignets and hotter jazz. Oh, New Orleans…you are unforgettable. Happy Mardi Gras, y’all.