The muffuletta (or muffiletta, or any number of other variations on a theme) is a giant sandwich. Wikipedia explains it a bit better than that:
A traditional muffuletta consists of one muffuletta loaf, split horizontally. The loaf is then covered with a marinated olive salad, then layers of capicola, salami, pepperoni, Emmental, ham and provolone. The sandwich is sometimes heated through to soften the provolone. The size of the muffuletta is enough to feed more than one person, and many stores sell quarter or half-muffulettas.
I have wanted to make something similar to the muffuletta for a long while, but never really had (or made) the occasion. When the weather recently picked up just before my dad’s birthday, I got over-excited and suggested that, to celebrate, we should have a picnic. Of course, by the time the birthday rolled around, it was grey and cloudy and even a tiny bit rainy again, but by that time I had formulated my Grand Plan which involved us eating lunch in the canteen of the building I work in, and thus avoiding the weather altogether.
This isn’t as rubbish as it sounds – the canteen at my work is on the fifth floor of the building and overlooks the River Clyde, the Clyde Arc (that’s the Squinty Bridge to most of us) and the city beyond. It’s actually pretty nice. There was the added bonus of it being indoors, of course, and with it being a Sunday the canteen was empty apart from us and one or two other poor souls who were working. Picnicking in the canteen also meant I didn’t have to worry about bringing napkins, paper cups or even cold water, since those were all readily available; an added bonus.
The Picnic Plan meant that I could finally attempt one of these fancy sandwiches, though really what I made was a far less grandly titled pressed sandwich. Muffuletta sounds a lot cooler. I began with a fresh granary loaf ; it took me a long time to decide which loaf to buy in the supermarket. I did a lot of comparing of size, depth, evenness of depth, evenness of top crust, texture of crust and, of course, price, before deciding on this one. Other contenders were a ciabatta loaf which was just a bit too shallow to be hollowed out, despite its alluring chewiness, and a tiger loaf, which I decided against on grounds of it being too strongly flavoured. I would like to state, on record, that this doesn’t mean I love tiger bread any less. I will always love it.
Once I had the loaf, I prepared all my sandwich filling items. These were, in the order in which they were placed in the sandwich, pea shoots and rocket, turkey breast (some plain and some honey roast), griddled courgette slices, cucumber ribbons, very thinly sliced red onion, tomato, olive-basil pesto, more cucumber ribbons, more turkey, more pea shoots and rocket, basil leaves and, finally, the last of the griddled courgette slices. When these were all lined up and ready, I sliced off the top of the loaf, making a lid, then hollowed it out by hand, tearing out chunks of bread but leaving enough on all sides to constitute a sandwich, rather than a filled bread crust. The bread from the inside was pulsed in my food processor to make breadcrumbs and then frozen for use at a later date. I coated the inside of the hollow loaf with olive oil, using a spray bottle to apply the oil before quickly spreading it with a pastry brush. This was intended to keep the bread from getting soggy as the ingredients were pressed overnight; you know how notorious tomatoes are for making sandwiches soggy. I coated the inside of the ‘lid’ with olive oil, too, and then a thin spread of wholegrain mustard. I packed in the ingredients as listed above, using a teaspoon to add a moderate amount of pesto on top of and around the tomatoes and pressing everything down firmly as I went along, then finally put on the lid and wrapped the whole sandwich in clingfilm.
That last sentence makes it sound like wrapping the sandwich was a simple operation. It was not. If you have ever experienced cling film (or any other plastic food wrap) you will know that it is most often neither clingy nor filmy, unless you happen to let it get in contact with itself, in which case wild horses couldn’t drag it back apart again. When you add the very small amount of excess flour that came from the outside of the loaf to the equation, you have a real battle on your hands. There were many strips of clingfilm involved in the procedure, and at the end the sandwich looked more mummified than wrapped, but I did it. I made sure that it was as tightly wrapped as I could manage, then placed it in a roasting tin, put a flat baking sheet on top and weighed the baking sheet down with a sack each of cornmeal (1kg) and rice flour (1.5kg). This ramshackle arrangement was then put in the fridge, and wedged tight by application of a tin of water chestnuts between the rice flour and the shelf above. I feel quite sorry for the sandwich now.
While we’re waiting for the sandwich to press overnight, allow me to pick up on the olive-basil pesto I mentioned. This is one of my more genius inventions, and is very simple to put together. I’ve come round to black olives in recent months, and really wanted to put some in the sandwich, but I know not everyone likes them. I get it, too, they’re pretty aggressive, as food goes, and an unexpected bit of olive in your sandwich could spell sandwich disaster. I really thought the olive flavour would be great with turkey salad, though, so I wanted to sneak it in there. I had already decided to make a basil pesto to go in the middle of the sandwich, to make it a bit fancier than your average turkey salad, and the idea of putting olives right in the pesto came to me in a flash of inspiration. Maybe ‘flicker’ is a better word, given that we’re talking about pesto and not world peace. I made the basil pesto as described here, then I blitzed eight black olives and 1/4 tsp of roasted garlic puree into a rough kind of tapenade. I mixed the tapenade in with the pest a teaspoon at a time, so I didn’t overshoot the mark and make it too strongly flavoured. I ended up adding three teaspoons, which was almost the whole lot anyway, before I thought that the olive flavour was pronounced enough to make a difference but not so strong as to be objectionable. I now have a little bowl of olive-basil pesto in the fridge, ready to party with some wholewheat spaghetti, a bit of spinach and a sprinkle of cheese. I’m looking forward to it.
On the morning of the picnic, I took the sandwich (now much flattened) out of the fridge and sliced it, not without some trepidation. The filling was certainly compressed, there’s no doubt about that. I was also surprised that the bread itself didn’t seem to have compressed at all; in hindsight it’s just as well, because if it had we’d have been eating an extremely thin sandwich. The olive oil had mostly stopped the bread from going soggy, with a few exceptions where a particularly sneaky tomato slice must have been working its magic, and the sandwich sliced pretty well, as you can see. All in all, a success! It wasn’t any less effort than making individual sandwiches – quite the reverse, in fact – but for a special occasion, or just to be a bit fancy, it’s worth the effort.
This was part one of the Picnic Papers – there are more basket-based delights to be had in the coming weeks.