We’re just a few weeks away from Mardi Gras and I had grand ambitions of making something to celebrate from La Cuisine Creole — it’s basically a New Orleans cook’s bible. It was first published in 1885 and it is amazing. It’s written earnestly with phrases and ideas that date itself… some need translation and others are unforgivable such as this gem on the chemical process of making soup: “…men with their superior instinctive reasoning power are more governed by law and abide more closely to rule; therefore are better cooks [than women]…”
That’s the only sexist remark I’ve come across, but the recipe titles are inspiring: “Nice Muffins”, “Another Ice Cream Without Cream”, “Barley or Sage Cream for Invalids.”
I could go on…
But what I really wanted to try was “Mock Turtle Soup. Excellent, No. 3” which I thought would be something akin to a mock apple pie, using Ritz crackers in place of turtle heads or something, but I was wrong. I don’t know exactly what makes it a mock turtle soup as it requires boiling a calf’s head, a veal knuckle and finishing it with the calf tongue and brains. I’m not opposed to cooking those items, I just have no idea where to buy them. Also: my compost bucket is not big enough to accommodate a calf’s skull.
So… I’m doing something less complicated but traditional New Orleans fare, nonetheless: Focaccia Muffaletta.
Muffaletta is really just a meat sandwich — salami (my favorite) is a must, but you can mix and match the other meats — capicola, mortadella, ham; whatever you choose, you can’t really go wrong. And since I always have salami on hand, all I had to get was another meat, make the bread and whip up the olive salad to have my own version of Mardi Gras in San Francisco.
To be clear: I just like making focaccia, but the original muffaletta was made with a Sicilian sesame bread as the sandwich’s creator was a Sicilian man who owned a deli in the French Quarter. He came up with the sandwich when he noticed the workers who bought his sandwiches struggled with the sandwich, the plate and the olive salad that accompanied the meal. To streamline it, he mashed the olive salad into the sandwich and made it a more compact lunch. That transformation turned it into a New Orleans staple like pralines or beignets.
Here’s my adaptation of the Muffuletta:
- 1 ¾ cup flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
- ½ cup warm water
- ¼ cup olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
With the water in the bowl of a stand mixer, sprinkle in the yeast on top and let stand until foamy; about five minutes. Add remaining ingredients and, using the hook attachment, stir for about five minutes until you have a smooth and slightly tacky dough. Form into a ball. Leave it in the bowl, cover with a towel or loosely fit plastic and let it rise for one hour.
Preheat oven to 425℉. Punch down dough and place in an 8”x8” pan or casserole dish prepared with olive oil. Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes. When it’s ready to bake, make dents in the dough by gently poking it with your fingers, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. It shouldn’t brown too much; the internal temperature should be 200℉.
For the muffaletta sandwich, cut bread in half and set aside one half. Slice one half down the middle so you have to slices of bread for a sandwich. Spread olive salad (mix of giardiniera, green olives, black olives, capers, a small shallot, clove of garlic and pulsed once or twice in food processor), then generously layer with provolone, dry salami, mortadella (traditional) or ham or capicola. Smash it all together and serve.
This sandwich is massive. You could use all of the focaccia to make one big sandwich (which is what they do in New Orleans), but that’s a lot of sandwich. Just the one quarter I ate was too big — but, like any salami enthusiast, I had to eat the whole thing.. And I don’t regret it 😉