If there’s such a thing as a world-class sandwich, this is it. A real muffuletta from Central Grocery is so good that it should be considered a crime to leave New Orleans without having one. The olive salad derives from the Sicilian tradition of marinating still slightly bitter newly brined olives in oil, vinegar, garlic, and other seasonings, including chopped celery, to sweeten and flavor them.
The olive salad here is based on a family recipe from my friend Gerard Bertolino who is from Gretna, Louisiana, right outside New Orleans. His version omits the carrots and cauliflower used in Central Grocery’s, but the flavor is incredibly similar. I’ve scaled back the quantities so you’ll have enough for a couple of muffulettas, but you can make more if you like; it will keep refrigerated for a month or so.
Makes one large sandwich, about 2 to 4 servings
Makes 2 generous cups
1 cup large pimento-stuffed olives, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup brine from the jar of olives
1/2 cup pitted Greek olives, such as Kalamata, coarsely chopped
3 short interior stalks celery with leaves, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/3 cup tiny capers in brine, drained and rinsed
3 small pickled peperoncini or other mildly spicy pickled peppers, halved, seeded and chopped
Salt (just a small sprinkle) and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon dried oregano, preferably Sicilian
1/3 cup olive oil
2 small cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 New Orleans Sicilian Sesame Roll (see below) split horizontally
1 cup olive salad including some of the liquid from the jar, below
5 ounces thinly sliced boiled ham
5 ounces thinly sliced mortadella
5 ounces thinly sliced Genoa salami
5 ounces thinly sliced loaf-style provolone
- First, make the olive salad: Combine all the ingredients except the oil, garlic, and vinegar in a large bowl.
- Combine the oil and garlic and stir in the vinegar. Pour over the salad and use a large rubber spatula to fold everything together. Let the salad stand for 1 hour at room temperature, folding again 3 or 4 times to develop flavor. Taste and correct seasoning with more salt, pepper, and vinegar.
- For advance preparation, pack into a plastic container or canning jar. Add more oil to cover all the ingredients if necessary. Cover the container and refrigerate until needed. Bring the amount you need to room temperature before using.
- When the olive salad is ready, spread on the bottom half of the roll and leave it to soak in for a few minutes.
- Arrange the sliced meats and provolone in separate layers over the salad; cover with the top half of the roll.
- Cut the muffuletta in quarters and serve. It needs no accompaniment.
New Orleans Sicilian Sesame Rolls
Makes three to four 9- to 10-inch round rolls
2 cups room temperature tap water, about 75°F
2 1/4 teaspoons fine granulated active dry or instant yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups unbleached bread flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 cup white sesame seeds for topping
Two cookie sheets or jelly-roll pans covered with parchment or foil
- Pour the water into the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk in the yeast. Wait 30 seconds and whisk again. Whisk in the oil.
- Use a large rubber spatula to stir the flour in a little at a time until you’ve used all the flour. Make sure all the flour is mixed into the liquid and there isn’t any clinging to the side of the bowl.
- Attach the dough hook. Mix on lowest speed until the dough comes together around the dough hook, 1 to 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and pull the dough away from the hook; let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
- Increase the mixer speed to low/medium and mix until the dough is smoother and more elastic, about 2 to 3 minutes longer.
- Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and turn it over so that the top is oiled. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough ferment until it starts to puff, about 30 minutes.
- Scrape the dough to a floured work surface, flour your hands, and pull the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the two sides in to overlap at the middle, then roll the top toward you, jelly-roll style. Invert the dough back to the bowl and cover again. let the dough ferment until it has fully doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes..
- To shape the rolls, use a flexible plastic scraper to slide the dough from the bowl, right side up, to a floured work surface; try to keep from deflating the dough. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces, each 335 grams. Round each piece of dough by pushing against the bottom of the dough all around with the sides of your hands held palms upward. The dough will quickly form an even sphere.
- Place the rolls on the prepared pans and cover them with a flat-weave towel or piece of sprayed or oiled plastic wrap. Let the rolls proof until they start to puff, about 30 minutes.
- Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 450˚F.
- Once the rolls have proofed to about 50% larger than their original size, flour the palms of your hands and gently press each to flatten it to about 1 inch thick. Generously spray the rolls with water and sprinkle heavily with sesame seeds.
- Decrease the heat to 425˚F and bake the rolls until well risen and golden, with an internal temperature of over 200˚F, about 25 to 30 minutes. Once the rolls are fully risen and starting to color, about halfway through the baking time, turn the pans back to front and move the pan on the upper rack to the lower one and vice versa.
- Cool the rolls on a rack and use them the day they are baked, or wrap, bag and freeze for longer storage. Reheat the defrosted rolls at 350˚F for 3 minutes and cool before serving.