Muffaletta: Ritual v. Reality
It should come to no one’s surprise that I like to cook dishes from places I visit and love. And I start to develop rituals in the places I visit regularly. Every trip to Fort Lauderdale starts with Earnie’s BBQ– a place so cool and old school it doesn’t need or have a website. Don’t worry if you see a bunch of cop cars in the lot…it’s just the Fort Lauderdale Bomb Squad’s monthly luncheon.
But in New Orleans, like most out of towners, I toss my bags in the hotel room and head to Central Grocery for a Muffaletta and a can of Bud. It’s the atmosphere. It’s the friendly service that has just a little out of place NYC flair to it. You don’t want to waste time when it’s your turn to order. You either get a half or a whole. Then you pull up a chair and eat it slowly. Taste every bite. Don’t notice that there’s dust on the grocery shelves. No one goes to Central for a pound of pasta.
Now, a Muffaletta can come in many varieties. Traditional, Yuppie, New Revivalist and even Hipster. I’m kind of in the New Revivalist camp. I keep all the traditional ingredients depending on what’s available in my store’s deli case and layer in a few items from left field.
Here’s what I did the last time I made one.
I cut the bread and dug out the bottom of the round. I only dig out the center, leaving a rim so the dug out part is kind of dry lake bed for me to fill. I throw some olive oil on it to get the bread going. The key to a good Muffaletta is enough oil to moisten, but not sog the bread.
Then I filled the lakebed with sauteed spinach and garlic and arranged wedges of three quarter dried tomatoes on it. (cut Roma tomatoes into wedges, sprinkle with sugar and roast at 275 for a couple of hours till they’re condensed but not dried).
Then the meats, a layer of genoa salami, smoked turkey, capicola, smoked provolone, and whatever else looks good or is on sale at the butcher…oh who am I kidding—at the Teeter.
Then the top. Olive Oil on the crown and sprinkle with some herbs. I like the Victoria Sicilian that you can get Homegoods! And maybe some Northwoods blend from Penzy’s. The spices on the bread seem to add a nuance of flavor.
Then the Tapenade. It can be from a jar.. but not house brand. You can make your own. You can buy it from a gourmet store. Just slop it on. Put the top on.
Now, you cannot skimp on this step. You MUST wrap it tightly. I use that Press and Seal stuff. Make it tight. Then put something heavy on it. I used an unopened 1/2 gallon juice bottle.
And leave it in the fridge for four hours minimum. Then take it out and let it come up to room temperature for a while before you slice it.