Given my love for enormous food items, it’s hard to believe I had never heard of a Muffuletta until a fateful stop-over in Syracuse. Upon checking in to the hotel, the girl at the desk asked if I needed any restaurant recommendations. It was late in the evening, so my choices were limited to a popular national bar and grill chain restaurant or Tonini’s Pizzeria. “It’s the Home of the Muffuletta!” I was excitedly told.
Naturally I was intrigued. It turns out the sandwich traces its North American roots to the Central Grocery in New Orleans. Down in the Big Easy it has been popular with Italian immigrants and locals for over 100 years. And now Syracuse seems to be its new home away from home.
The Muffuletta (pronounced moo-foo-LET-ah and sometimes spelled Muffaletta) is a Super Bowl caliber Italian sandwich. The secret, I discovered, isn’t just the open-house party of Italian meats; mortadella, salami and ham. Nor is it a mouse’s dream of two types of imported Italian cheeses – mozzarella and provolone. It’s actually the marinated vegetable mix commonly known as Olive Salad. That is as much a part of the sandwich as the round Sicilian sesame bread from which the sandwich gets its name. The signature Olive Salad consists of green olives diced with chopped celery, cauliflower and carrots, seasoned with oregano and garlic and marinated in olive oil.
Variations of Olive Salad can be found in the Italian antipasti section of most supermarkets. The only actual “Muffuletta Salad” I found that was packaged and sold as such (so far) is from Formella & Sons sold at Nicastro’s Fine Foods in Ottawa and Muffaletta Spread by Aurora Importing in select retailers and Italian delis.
I also added a personal touch which is my favorite addition to any Italian sandwich and something that has been a staple in my kitchen for 17 years and once of my earliest jobs in a kitchen; marinated eggplant. The taste is part bitter and part sweet and is a perfectly compliment to this sandwich in particular.
The bread needs to be a round Muffuletta loaf. If you can’t find one, a round Calabrese loaf which is what I did or round sourdough will substitute nicely, giving a perfect rustic Italian taste. As long as the outside is crusty and the inside is soft, you’re good to go.
In my opinion, the Muffuletta sandwich is a perfect weeknight meal fix. It’s large enough to satisfy on account of it being nearly 12 inches in diameter and can be sliced into ‘pie pieces’ for individual servings. Just for fun, you can pair it with the classic Italian soda Brio Chinotto for an even more authentic taste.
It’s certainly not a midnight snack or something that will fit in the average lunch box. But it is a welcomed change from the endless foot long sandwich which has graced some sport-themed party or family event since the dawn of time, so maybe consider it for the next backyard BBQ or family picnic.
- 1 Round Muffuletta or Calabrese loaf of Italian bread
- 1/2 lbs Mortadella
- 1/2 lbs Salami (mild)
- 1/2 lbs Ham
- 1/4 lbs Provolone Cheese
- 1/4 lbs Mozzarella Cheese
- 1.5 cup Olive Salad (diced green olives, olive oil, celery, cauliflower, carrots, sweet peppers, onions, capers, parsley, oregano, garlic, and vinegar)
- 1/2 cup Marinated Eggplant (mild)
- 2 tbsp Mayonnaise (if desired)
- Cut round loaf of bread length-wise
- Add thin layer of mayonnaise if desired
- Layer bottom half of loaf, starting with Olive Salad, covering all of the bottom of the bread. (It is more than acceptable if the oil from the Salad leaks into the bread. This will add more flavor.)
- Continue to layer using all meats followed by cheeses
- Top with marinated eggplant
- Put top of bread back on and cut into slices