Two Years Ago: Lemony Chicken Saltimbocca
I love a good sandwich so much that I've decided to occasionally post great sandwiches from around the world such as Italian tuna sandwich, banh mi, pan bagnat, and chicken gyros. The Muffuletta is arguably one of the most famous sandwiches in the United States, originating with Italian immigrants in New Orleans. The term "muffuletta" refers both to the round loaf of bread, and to the sandwich itself. And what a sandwich - a signature olive relish plus thick layers of provolone, mortadella and hot soppressata, all pressed together to make a cohesive whole. When you bite into a wedge (the biggest challenge is actually getting your mouth around it) you get tastes of creamy cheese, hot sausage, salty olives, crunchy veggies and olive oil that has soaked into the bread, keeping it moist and delicious.
This is an indulgent sandwich. As a matter of fact, I felt guilty enough the day I made it that I spent extra time on the treadmill and then tried to eat very slowly and mindfully, savoring what I knew was going to be an infrequent treat prefaced and followed by days of salads. (Doesn't mindful eating counteract at least some of the calories? Sort of like drinking Diet Coke with pizza, one of my favorite irrational rationalizations.)
You could, of course, cut down on the meats, cheese and olive oil, and serve the sandwich on thin-sliced bread if you wanted an approximation of the tastes with less guilt. But I wanted to try the real deal. The sacrifices I make in the name of culinary curiosity.
First is the bread: a round, slightly flatted loaf of soft Italian white bread with a slightly crisp crust, typically with sesame seeds on top. I couldn't find the exact right loaf but found a very close approximation at my grocery store that was labeled "sheepherder bread". Why they are making sheepherder bread for mass consumption is another question for which I have no answer, but it worked - the only thing missing was the sesame seeds. Basically any 6-8" round white loaf will work, as long as it doesn't have a really hard crust.
Next is the olive relish. First you briefly cook cauliflower, carrots and celery in olive oil and spices, then you combine that mixture with green and black olives, pepperoncini, and pimentos. My suggestion is to head to your local salad bar because you need relatively small amounts of the cauliflower, carrots and celery, plus every store has an olive bar these days.
Next up is the filling: provolone cheese (easy to find), mortadella (sort of like Italian bologna, harder to find in a grocery store but still possible), and hot soppressatta (a hot salami, difficult to find - I finally found some at my local Italian market). If you're either the type of person who either a) enjoys these culinary treasure hunts, or b) wants to try an authentic version of the recipe, it's worth the effort. Otherwise, you could substitute other Italian meats such as bologna and hot salami from the deli case.
The final part is assembly and squishing (yes, squishing). The olive relish goes on both cut and hollowed-out bread halves to make sure the dressing soaks into the top and bottom of the sandwich. (This is important but slightly problematic as you'll see in a minute.) The cheese and meats are layered on the bottom half, then you're supposed to "carefully" place the top on the bottom. With a million little olive relish pieces falling out all over. Right. My solution was to place one layer of soppressata on the top half and the rest on the bottom half, so the olive relish on the top was at least covered. Then you quickly flip the top over onto the bottom half. This takes commitment and, once started, there's no going back. But it did work.
And now for the squishing - wrap the whole loaf tightly in plastic wrap and weigh it down with a cast iron skillet (or just gently press down on it occasionally) for at least an hour or up to overnight. The recipe doesn't specify to refrigerate it at this point, and I would assume that leaving it out for an hour or two would be perfectly fine, but for any time longer than that I would refrigerate it. The squishing and standing time allows the sandwich to become a cohesive whole which will cut beautifully as you can see by the picture. So, make the sandwich in the morning and you have the perfect take-along loaf for you and three friends for your next concert in the park. Just make sure you work out first.
Note: this recipe requires at least an hour of standing time after assembly so plan ahead.
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ medium carrot, thinly sliced
½ rib celery, thinly sliced
½ cup finely chopped cauliflower
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ cup pitted green olives, finely chopped
¼ cup pitted kalamata olives, finely chopped
5 pepperoncini, stemmed and thinly sliced
2 jarred pimento peppers, finely chopped
6-8” round Italian loaf with sesame seeds, split horizontally and hollowed out
4 ounces thinly sliced provolone cheese
5 ounces thinly sliced mortadella
5 ounces thinly sliced hot soppressata
Prepare the relish: Combine the olive oil, carrot, celery, cauliflower, oregano, chile flakes and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and simmer until the vegetables are not quite tender, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and add the vinegar, olives, pepperoncini and pimento peppers. Stir to combine.
To assemble the sandwich, divide the olive relish between the top and bottom half of the bread, including liquids. Layer the provolone, mortadella and hot soppressata on the bottom half, making sure none of the meat or cheese extends over the sides of the bread. Place the last few pieces of meat on the top half of the bread to cover the olive relish, then quickly and decisively turn the top half over onto the bottom half, replacing any stray relish pieces than may have fallen out. Wrap the sandwich tightly in plastic wrap, then weight it down with a cast iron skillet or gently press on the top of the sandwich occasionally with your hands. Let stand for at least an hour or up to overnight, refrigerating after an hour.
Cut into four wedges to serve.