A real muffaletta is one of those rare dishes whose taste is somehow way more than the combination of the tastes of the ingredients. I realized this the first time I tasted one in a little cafe in New Orleans, on my one visit there many years ago. Since that trip, I’ve got out my Cajun-Creole cookbook and made my own muffaletta from time to time, usually when I had to take something to a potluck. It’s been worth it — those few times.
What exactly goes into a muffaletta? (Which you’ll see spelled countless different ways.) You start with a round loaf of Sicilian style bread — the name actually refers to the bread alone. It should be soft on the inside and crisp, though not too flaky, on the outside, and have sesame seeds on top. Wikipedia says focaccia is close enough, but you can also make your own muffaletta bread fairly easily.
The filling is traditionally mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone — so three cured meats and two cheeses — topped by olive salad, which is a tradition in its own right. (Put simply, it’s olives marinated with pickled vegetables.) I’d suspect everyone in New Orleans has their own slightly different recipe for olive salad. You can also buy it ready-made there, though not where I live.
If this is beginning to sound complicated, well, it is. That’s why I don’t make muffalettas very often. The olive salad alone takes a lot of time, plus ingredients I don’t usually have in the house.
But I’ve found you can come very close to the full muffaletta experience by combining a few of the essential tastes. So here’s what I call a “mockaletta”. Though it’s a stripped-down version of a muffaletta, it does have more than the four ingredients I usually limit myself to. However, last week’s recipe had only three ingredients — so I think I’m allowed an extra this week.
- ¾ cup stuffed green olives
- 1 large round loaf of bread (about 10 inches)
- ½ pound sliced mild cheese (swiss, mozzarella, etc.)
- ½ pound thin sliced ham
- ½ pound thin sliced salami or other cooked cured sausage
- Drain the olives and process them in a food processor for a few seconds until they’re coarsely chopped. If they seem too dry to serve as a relish, add a little olive oil.
- Split the bread horizontally. Pile the meats and cheese on the bottom half and spread the olives over them. Cover with the top and cut into wedges, which you may want to hold together with cocktail toothpicks.
- Serve with salad for a light supper.