Muffulettas are right up there with poor boys in popularity and goodness among local sandwiches. What makes them special is the dressing. It’s called olive salad, and it’s something like antipasto, made by marinating not only olives but also a host of other vegetables in olive oil, a little vinegar, and a lot of garlic and herbs. This recipe starts from scratch, but you can use prepared Italian giardiniera in place of the non-olive vegetables.
The muffuletta is filled with as many as three meats and three cheeses, all sliced very thin. Ham and Genoa salami are essential; mortadella is optional but desirable. Mozzarella, provolone, and Swiss cheese can be used in any combination. The best bread to use is the muffuletta loaf made by the United Bakery, an old, small company whose limited output never satisfies the demand. Any crusty round loaf with a medium-light texture will do.
The great controversy concerning muffulettas is whether they should be heated or not. The current vogue is to do so until the cheeses melt. My take is that this throws off the flavors and textures of everything and that a room-temperature muffuletta is superior.
Yield: Serves 6 to 10
2 medium carrots, sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 small red bell pepper
16 large green olives, pitted
2 cups medium green olives, pitted
1 cup brine-cured black olives, pitted
1½ cups extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup brining juice from the olive jar
6 large cloves garlic, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
¼ cup (a small jar) capers
10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb. lean, smoked ham (I recommend the local Chisesi ham), thinly sliced
1 lb. Genoa salami, thinly sliced
½ lb. mortadella (optional), thinly sliced
2 lb. total of at least 2 of these cheeses: mozzarella, provolone, or Swiss, thinly sliced
3 loaves muffuletta bread, or other medium-texture loaf, 8 inches in diameter
1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Boil the carrots and cauliflower until crisptender, about 5 minutes. Rinse with cold water, drain, and set aside.
2. Roast the bell pepper under a broiler until the skin turns black and blistered in spots. Keep turning until the entire exterior is that way. Remove, cool, peel, and remove stem and seeds. Cut into ½ x 1-inch pieces and set aside.
3. With a knife (not a food processor), coarsely chop the olives. It’s okay if some of the olives are cut into just 2 pieces or not at all. Transfer the olives to a large non-metallic bowl. Add all of the remaining olive salad ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least a day; a week is better (stored in jars).
4. To make the sandwich: Cut each loaf in half crosswise and spoon olive salad with a lot of the marinating oil onto both halves. Put 3-4 slices (or more) of each of the meats and cheeses onto the bottom half. Cover with the top half of the loaf and cut each sandwich into quarters. Figure 1-2 quarters per person, but know that it is hard to stop eating muffulettas, even if you’re full.