In October I went to New Orleans and had some amaaaazing food and drinks. I loved everything I had, but one that stuck out was the vegetarian muffaletta from Central Grocery, the birthplace of this New Orleans specialty. I could not stop thinking about this salty, crunchy sandwich. Upon returning home and craving the sandwich, I figured I could replicate it pretty darn close.
I got all the key components to the sandwich in order and piled them in order. I closed my eyes, took a bite and really believed I was back in that beautiful, magical city with my husband and friends, sittings on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Since it’s Fat Tuesday, I thought I would share my rendition of this great Crescent City classic.
I’ll start with giardiniera because it takes three to seven (or more) days to prepare. Giardiniera is a variety pickled vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, celery and peppers) in oil and vinegar and seasonings. You can by it in the store, but everything I’ve seen is a brown-green mushy mess, and it’s so darn easy and tasty to make your own (and you can control the salt, seasonings, peppers and crunchiness). I used this giardiniera recipe from the New York Times, and it worked perfectly. I let the veggies meld for four or five days and it was perfect. It makes 2 quarts, but it goes fast and is great on sandwiches, salads and on its own.
I used a mix of green and kalamata olives, but any mix you like will work. Slice ‘em up.
The exact New Orleans muffaletta bread can be hard to find, I was warned on websites. Similar to focaccia bread, but less dense, it is a large round loaf (almost 12 inches), with sesame seeds on top. I found some recipes to make a similar bread, but decided on a really nice and fresh sesame roll at my local Italian market that is the perfect single-sandwich size.
The key is to use not too hard or too soft a cheese. Provolone is a must and you can go from there, either a Swiss or mozzarella cheese. If you want to add meat or have an (ahem) spouse who would, the meats are salami and capicola, or ham.
Slice the bread in half. On the bottom half place the cheese (and meat, if using). This sandwich isn’t a time to count calories or be stingy. Get a nice, hearty layer of cheese going. On the top half put a thick layer of olive spread. On top of that put the giardiniera, making sure to get a variety of veggies and seasonings. Give the top half a few minutes to let the oils soak into the bread. Carefully put the two halves together, squish down a little to let everything mingle, and eat. So. Darn. Good. I paired my muffaletta with sweet potato chips and a great New Orleans beer, an Abita Turbodog.