Despite sounding rather obscene (let’s face it, a sandwich named muffuletta has got to be in the top-ten double entrendre foods), the muffuletta is an amazing sandwich! Somehow the Italian hero or grinder (depending on the region of the US in which you reside) was transformed by the Louisiana French influence into a new and amazing gastronomic treat.
According to a table in the airport, painted with varied muffulettas, the true Italian pronunciation would be moo-foo-LEH-tah. Loosz’anna pronunciation is more along the lines of muh-fuh-LET-ta. (I’m guessing in da Bronx and Brooklyn, maybe even in Jersey, this would be pronounced moe-foe-letta, LOL.)
Anyway, the muffuletta is as varied and different as there are muffuletta makers. Many sandwich makers swear by the pre-made recipe, where the juices of the olive salad sink into the bread. I personally dislike wet bread, so I was happy to find that Messina’s Café makes their muffuletta fresh with each order, and heats the bread/cheese/meat part of the sandwich before adding the olive salad.
To make your muffuletta in the style of Messina’s:
Begin with a round and crusty bread, preferably with sesame seeds on top. Bread should be about 9 to 12 inches in diameter. (This will feed four normal people, two hungry people, or one teenage boy.) Cut the round bread in half horizontally. Brush both sides with a little olive oil (or skip this if you want to save a few calories or if you like dry bread).
Layer the meat and cheese – you want several slices of a variety of meats and cheeses, to build up a few layers. The muffuletta I ate (most of) had ham and provolone, but others had salami, mortadella, bologna. Go with your preference – but the cheese should be mild, and the meats should be cured and salty. Also, most muffulette (Italian plural of muffuletta) seemed to begin and end with the meats, with cheese in the middle.
Now, place the filled side of the bread and the empty side of the bread in a warm oven for a few minutes to lightly toast (but not brown) the bread and make the cheese just slightly warm and gooey (but not runny).
Take the two haves out of the oven, pile on olive salad (see next paragraph) on top of the meat and cheese side, then take the plain side of the bread and really press this down on top of the sandwich – you don’t want to flatten and smoosh the bread, but you do want to press the entire sandwich together. Cut into quarters and serve while still warm. This sandwich is rich, earthy, spicy, salty, tangy, and just a little bit of heaven!
Olive salad: This is a relish, really, made of mostly green olives, a few black olives (olives pitted), marinated vegetables (like carrots, cauliflower, peppers), all diced into small chunks and marinated in a vinaigrette that has been enhanced with hot peppers, maybe some oregano or rosemary, and left to meld the flavors. If your sandwich doesn’t have the olive salad, it really is just a hero, not a muffuletta – you need this olive salad to make it authentic!