The making of a muffuletta

It all started with a large container of olives left over from a potluck party.

They were a mix of gorgeous green and Kalamata olives, and I wanted to do something more interesting with them than just eating them whole or throwing them in a salad.

I decided to make an olive spread or tapenade. I pitted the olives and dumped them in a food processor along with about two tablespoons of capers, juice from half a lemon, two garlic cloves, reconstituted sundried tomatoes, and 1/3 cup olive oil.

I pulsed everything together, gave it a taste and was pleased with the result until I realized that I now had a lot of olive tapenade–as in, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do with all of this olive tapenade?!”

I racked my brain for serving ideas and could come up with nothing better than crostini. (If I had calmed down at that moment and consulted the almighty Internet, I would have have found 10 ways to use olive tapenade from Joyful Abode and then 10 more from the Organic Gardens Network.)

Then for some reason, I remembered that olive spread is a key ingredient of a muffuletta, the New Orleans sandwich comprised of layers of Italian cold cuts and cheeses. The sandwich is wrapped tightly, sometimes pressed, and usually refrigerated so that the “olive salad” can permeate the bread. I have never had a muffuletta–much less made one myself–but it seemed like a perfect use for all of the tapenade I now had on my hands.

As with any sandwich–but especially a muffuletta–the bread is key. The muffuletta is traditionally made with a type of round sesame Sicilian bread also called muffuletta. I wasn’t going to find that in Seattle so I decided to use a large round of white Italian bread. Apparently, this type of bread is not too common in Seattle either. I went to three different places before I found a loaf at Boracchini’s Bakery. (Duh!)

I cut the bread in half and hollowed it out. Then I brushed some olive oil on the inside of each half of bread and then topped that with the tapenade.

Olive salad on muffuletta sandwich

I started building layers, first adding provolone, and then salami, thinly sliced ham and mortadella, which is an Italian cold cut that contains cubes of pork fat, spices and often pistachios. I did two layers of meat and cheese in each half of the loaf.

Provolone in muffuletta sandwich

Layers of Italian cold cuts in muffuletta sandwich

I put the two halves of bread, now heavy with meat and cheese, back together, wrapped it tightly with several layers of plastic wrap and placed it in the fridge. I could not wait to try it and cut into it after a few hours (although it would have been better to let it sit overnight–oh well, I was hungry!)

Layers of a muffuletta sandwich

My muffuletta was massive. The next time I make one, I will definitely put only one layer of meat and cheese in each half of bread. I think I may try the variations that Giada De Laurentiis has in her muffuletta recipe, too. She doesn’t cut the bread in half. Instead, she simply cuts the top off a round of bread, hollows it and builds her layers. This gives the sandwich more structural integrity because you don’t have to smash the two halves back together. She also adds arugula and red onion at the top of her muffuletta. Maybe it was because I had so much meat and cheese, but I think I would appreciate the freshness and crunch of some vegetables in a muffuletta. The other thing I would do is to put a layer of olives in the middle of the sandwich as well as on the ends.

I’m aware that this means that I need to make more olive tapenade.

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