We were in Baltimore for the last week. While there we stopped at Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop in Little Italy. Besides wonderful pastries they had “Muffuletta” on their menu. This was the first time I had seen Muffuletta on a menu outside of New Orleans. I always thought that the Muffuletta was named after the large, round, and somewhat flat Sicillian bread found in New Orleans.
I ordered Vaccaro's “Muffuletta”. What was presented was a heated Panini made with provolone cheese, ham, Mortadella, Genoa salami and a chunky style olive tapenade. It was very good and filling. With multi layers of meats and cheese it was large enough to feed more than one person.
Has anyone had experience with Muffulettas outside of New Orleans?
Is it really a “Muffuletta” if it isn’t made on Muffuletta bread?
The first time I heard the term was many years ago, on The Frugal Gourmet. He used a rather flat boule; after halving it he tore out a lot of the interior, as would be done to make a "soup bowl". As I recall, after piling in the ingredients he wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and said it had to sit in the fridge for some time so all the flavors melded. Possibly it was weighted down as well...
I have seen them on menus in the northeast, but have no idea what shape the bread is. Here, there was a court case not long ago that hinged on whether or not a wrap is a sandwich. (I'd say yes but if memory serves, the court ruled otherwise, based largely on Chris Schlesinger's opinion.) I'd think that the olive salad is a more important defining characteristic of the muffuletta than is the precise name/shape of the bread.
Good question. Clearly, the type of bread is important. You can't make a muffuletta with rye bread or whole wheat. But is the shape of the bread critical? I don't think so, except in a legalistic sense. Any crusty french or Italian style bread will do nicely. If you close your eyes, take a bite, and it tastes like muffaletta, it's some sort of muffaletta. But if you put it in a panini press, it's a muffaletta-panino (panina?).
I think the origin of this sandwich is the provencal Pan Bagnat, where you have a flatish round bread with its innards removed, layered with fillings, wrapped and pressed. Lovely.
If it's not on muffuletta bread, it's not a muffuletta, period. It might be a nice sandwich with olive tapenade and some mortadella, but a muffuletta is named after the bread. Hollowing out & stuffing the round loaf (letting it sit in the fridge for a while helps meld the flavors) is crucial to the integrity of the dish. And while I've heard of muffulettas warmed to melt the cheese, they're typically not served hot.
That said, it sounds like a fabulous panini you got from Vaccaro's and something that could be made at home in single-serving size... think I'll try it, thanks!