I was so excited by the idea of a po’ boy on Mardi Gras last week that I forgot about muffalettas for ten whole days. Muffaletta, please stand up. Everyone, a round of applause for the Italian hero of the South. Isn’t it lovely? Wave to the crowd, dear. That public apology given, I would like to further distinguish this sandwich from its Italian-American cousin to the North. Here are some facts about this most satisfying of subs.
- Instead of roasted red peppers, the Mediterranean accent in a muffaletta is olive salad. This condiment, a tangy relish of chopped green, black and kalamata olives, capers, garlic, scallions and giardiniera (pickled cauliflower, carrots, celery and peppers) is essential to the sandwich’s identity, and couldn’t be better suited for cutting through the richness of the meat and cheese.
- The fillings must be Italian in their entirety, lest you rouse the voodoo sandwich spirits who surface at the slightest deficiency of salt or fat. Oh, they’re real. Look at New Orleans cuisine if you don’t believe me. Acceptable: Genoa salami, ham, mortadella, cappicola, soppressata, provolone (preferably aged). Unacceptable: goat cheese, cheddar, blue.
- Shops hawking this sandwich are commonly referred to by NOLA natives as “muff places.” File under: things you can’t make up.
- A real muffaletta, as inventor Lupo Salvatore of Central Grocery intended, should feed two to four people, or appoximately seven Angelina Jolies.
With flashbacks of New York’s run-of-the-mill attempt at celebrating Mardi Gras still haunting me (I got three bead necklaces, yet no compliments), I take comfort in this sandwich which bridges the gap between the corner deli and the end of Highway 61.