I could write an entire cookbook on the food memories that have lingered with me for over thirty-six years.
Oh wait, I did. But that’s another story.
I’m aware that cultivating a cache of edible moments doesn’t make me particularly extraordinary. Meals and memories go hand-in-hand for most. And whether these recollections are based on items that were (or weren’t) made from scratch in a home kitchen, in my opinion, they’re all worth celebrating.
The smoky perfume of spicy, divinely crisped pepperoni brings me back to Friday night adolescent adventures complete with Blockbuster VHS tapes and pizza delivery. The sweet, woody scent of vanilla ice cream plunked into fizzy cola whisks me to dozens of childhood birthday parties at the ice-skating rink where Coke floats and candy were the norm.
And the briny aroma of garlicky olive salad spiked with red wine vinegar and spices takes me straight to after-school drive thru memories of the time when I first fell in love with the muffuletta sandwich.
You know when you build something nostalgic up in your head, revisit the experience in some way, and then realize it’s not nearly as astonishing as you’d once thought? That’s where this brief anecdote about Schlotzsky’s® deli comes into play.
Trips to this fast-casual American franchise were some of my most favorite after-school outings, and in my mind, the handheld I regularly ordered was the epitome of a classic New Orleans-inspired muffuletta.
It turns out that notion mostly existed in my head alone, as I recently discovered that the Schlotzsky’s sandwich I had placed high on a pedestal for decades only compares to the muffuletta in the fact that it stacks salty ham and peppery salami with olive salad on soft, round bread.
Is it inspired by the New Orleans staple? Yes. But is Schlotzsky’s well-known for the most part for their toasted sandwiches and dynamite sourdough pizzas? Also, yes.
Don’t worry. This wasn’t like finding out Santa Claus isn’t real or that Britney and Justin totally were dating in 1998. For one, I’m Jewish, so Santa might as well be a stranger. Two, I saw Justin Timberlake (duffel bag in hand) leaving Britney’s hotel with my own two eyes at the age of 13.
But three (and most importantly), the authentic muffuletta I ended up crafting in my own kitchen was pure bliss. So in the end, who really cares?
Speaking of things not worth dwelling on, whether you spell it muffuletta or muffaletta, it’s sure to be delicious all the same. This Sicilian word is the name for the bread that the sandwich is served on.
Where exactly the muffuletta sandwich actually sprang to life is also highly debated, but Central Grocery in the French Quarter is commonly credited as the location of its invention.
Look, even if the sandwich simply fell out of the sky and is spelled with a silent “F” at the end, as long as it’s made in the signature style with olive salad plus various Italian meats and cheeses on a flat, round loaf that’s pressed to perfection, everyone ends up happy. Right?
This meaty masterpiece is a piece of cake to tackle at home, and as always, you can tinker with it to suit your tastes since you’re the one holding the knife.
For example, mayo isn’t traditionally spread on the bread, but it makes for a juicier final result if you like yours that way. As an ode to Schlotzsky’s®, I even considered giving my finished dish a ride in the toaster oven and tossing on some LTO.
That’s lettuce, tomato, and onions, for those of you who aren’t professional sandwich makers or enthusiasts.
Whatever you call yourself (or this sandwich), don’t skimp on the olive salad or try to rush the pressing process, which allows the ingredients to get to know each other a little better before you dive in.
And whether this is your first encounter with the NOLA specialty, or you, too, happen to have previous experience eating it in the backseat of your mom’s car, I guarantee that you’ll take one bite, and it will stick with you forever.Print
Chomp down on this classic New Orleans handheld stacked with savory cold cuts, garlicky olive-caper salad, and a double layer of cheese.
- 1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives
- 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
- 1/4 cup jarred Italian giardiniera
- 1 medium clove garlic
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup pepperoncini, stems removed (optional, or reserve for serving)
- 1/2 large seeded loaf muffuletta bread (about 5/8 pound), or a soft Italian variety like ciabatta or focaccia
- 6 ounces Genoa salami, thinly sliced
- 6 ounces capocollo, thinly sliced
- 6 ounces mortadella, thinly sliced
- 3 ounces sliced mozzarella cheese
- 3 ounces sliced provolone cheese
- In a food processor, combine the green olives, kalamata olives, giardiniera, garlic, capers, parsley, oregano, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, red wine vinegar, and oil, as well as the pepperoncini if using, and pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer the olive salad to a container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight.
- Slice the bread in half lengthwise, and remove some of the soft interior if you like, to make more room for the fillings.
- Spread half of the olive salad (with its liquid) on the bottom layer and top with the salami, capocollo, mortadella, mozzarella, and provolone. Top with the remaining olive salad and top half of the bread.
- Wrap the entire loaf tightly in plastic wrap. Place a cast-iron pan on top of the wrapped sandwich to press it and help the ingredients to meld together. Set aside to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Cut into even triangular portions and serve.
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Category: Meat
- Method: No-Cook
- Cuisine: Sandwich
Keywords: sandwich, New Orleans, muffuletta, olive
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Make the Olive Spread
Rinse and drain the capers and roughly chop the parsley.
Including spicy pepperoncini in the olive spread is optional, or the peppers could also be served alongside your dish. If you use them in the spread, make sure to stem them before adding them to the food processor. Hot giardiniera typically included pepperoncini already, while mild versions of the pickle mix do not.
Pimento-stuffed green olives and kalamatas are readily accessible at most grocery stores, but since this is an Italian-inspired recipe, feel free to look for Italian varieties such as gaeta or saracena. Be sure to include one black and one green brine-cured option, selected according to taste.
If you substitute, pit the olives first if this hasn’t been done already, and make sure to add 1/4 cup chopped pimentos as well.
In a food processor, combine the green and black olives, giardiniera, garlic, capers, parsley, oregano, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, red wine vinegar, oil, and pepperoncini if using, and pulse until coarsely chopped. You don’t want to create a fine paste, so make sure you only pulse a few times so there’s still plenty of texture.
Transfer the olive salad to a container and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight so the flavors can meld.
Step 2 – Fill the Bread
Traditional muffuletta bread is a 10-inch sesame-seeded round loaf with a light-textured but dense interior and a thin crust. A typical loaf is about 1 1/4 pounds and it’s big enough to make sandwiches for 8 people, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one at a local bakery unless you live in New Orleans.
Since this recipe is meant for 4 and you may not be able to get your hands on the actual article, about half a pound of any soft-but-sturdy Italian variety that’s more easily accessible like ciabatta or focaccia works great. You can also use 4 seeded hoagie rolls.
Using a serrated knife, slice the bread lengthwise. Remove some of the soft interior if you like, to make more room for the fillings.
Generously spread half of the olive salad and all of its liquid on the bottom layer. You want the juices to really soak into the bread.
Feel free to substitute pepperoni, prosciutto (save it for our saltimbocca!), or soppressata for the suggested deli meats. You can also substitute bologna or olive loaf for the mortadella if you can’t find it.
Top the olive spread with the salami, capocollo, mortadella, mozzarella (low-moisture or smoked), and any variety of provolone – sharp, mild, or smoked. Just don’t use two varieties of smoked cheese or this will overpower the flavor of the sandwich.
You can lay the meat flat, or fold or crumple it so the final presentation looks a little fuller when it’s sliced.
Top the meat and cheese with the remaining olive salad or spread it onto the other half of the bread, and then place the remaining bread on top.
Step 3 – Press the Sandwich
Wrap the entire loaf in plastic wrap and then top the wrapped sandwich with a heavy item like a cast iron pan so the ingredients meld well, and soak up the juices. This also makes the sandwich easier to cut and keeps the olive spread from spilling over the sides.
Set aside to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
Cut into even triangular portions and serve. You can use skewers or large toothpicks to hold the sandwich together while you slice it.
A Sandwich Symphony
The muffuletta is named for the bread that it goes on, and maybe I’ll give baking a loaf of my own a shot sometime soon. If I do, you’ll be the first to know!
Here’s a little more on the loaf:
Muffuletta is dotted with sesame seeds, crispy on the outside, and dense on the inside. It’s also used to make what Sicilians call pani cunzatu, or seasoned bread, a much simpler sandwich for the lean times.
In this peasant-style dish, the warm bread is topped with oil and a little seasoning, and a few flavorful ingredients like sardines or anchovies, capers, and tomato and cheese if you have some. Sign me up for one of those, too.
Occasionally, I like to reach for fresh mozzarella (as opposed to the low-moisture variety) to add bulk and creaminess to the filling, and tangy sharp provolone for a bit of bite.
Which cheeses will you round up to manifest your muffuletta? Share your sandwich secrets in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
If you’ve got a hankering to wrap your hands around even more homemade sandwiches, try these beautiful between-bread recipes next:
- Spicy Roasted Portobello Sandwiches with Bell Peppers and Camembert
- Sauteed Mushroom and Thyme Pine Nut Butter Sandwiches
- Tangy White Barbecue Grilled Chicken Sandwiches
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on February 9, 2015. Last updated on February 14, 2022.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”