The Muffuletto From the North

Sometime in the early 1990s my wife, my son, and I were in the French Quarter of New Orleans and finding ourselves hungry we tripped into the closest restaurant to us; a very old place called the Old Absinthe House. As first-time visitors to NOLA, we didn’t have a clue that we had stumbled into one of the oldest and most famous bars in America. The Absinthe was where Andrew Jackson met the pirate Jean Lafitte to ask help in repelling the British invasion of the lower Mississippi and New Orleans. Lafitte agreed and history was made.

We made our own history that visit by ordering a strangely named sandwich for lunch, the muffuletta. Basically, it was a stack of cold cuts on a bun and topped with a mixture of several kinds of chopped olives. We ate it, we enjoyed it, and mostly forgot about it.

Some years later we were in New Orleans for a Caribbean cruize and the day before were prowling the French Quarter and came across a place called the Central Grocery. A sign claimed that this is where the muffuletta sandwich was created so my daughters and I decided to share one. This time the experience wasn’t forgotten and when we returned home we began occasionally whipping the olive salad that is the signature ingredient of the sandwich.

Last week I decided it was time to take another go at trying to recreate the Central Grocery version of the sandwich so I went shopping for the ingredients. Basically, you need a good bread and I settled on some par-baked ciabatta buns I found at Aldi’s. At Kroger’s, I found the mortadella, porchetta, salami, and smoked provolone cheese. I also purchased a small can of ripe olives, a small jar of stuffed green olives, and a small jar of artichoke hearts salad.

The day before I chopped up the olives and artichoke salad and seasoned it with a little Creole seasoning and red pepper flakes. I added some of the olive oil back into the mixture and let it set in the fridge overnight to meld the flavors.

Next evening I finished baking the ciabatta rolls and built the sandwiches with layers of the three types of meat and the smoked cheese. I drizzled a little extra virgin olive oil over each stack and popped each into the microwave for 30 seconds to take the chill off and partially melt the cheese.

The end result was a Yankee version of a New Orleans tradition and I think as good as can be found north of Central Grocery.

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