by Joan Saunders | photos by Kathryn Alvarez Photography – 

It’s a glorious time of year: ideal for dinners al fresco, barbecues at the beach or picnics in the park. It’s so satisfying to pull flavourful goodies from the cooler or hamper, lay them out and let the sunny hours lazily unfold.

Sometimes, instead of relying on standard picnic fare, I look for some summer inspiration. The Muffuletta, a New Orleans sandwich, is tailor made for the season. It’s not only impressive looking, but is also so easy to create. You can spend a bit more time and make the bread and the olive salad, or you can buy all of the ingredients and throw it together. It will taste amazing either way and look so darn great. Add some fruit and cookies and you’re simply, fabulously, picnic perfect.

Picnic Perfect Muffuletta
1 9-10 inch round Italian bread or 6-8 ciabatta buns (purchased or homemade)
1 to 1 ½ cups olive salad (purchased or homemade; I like lots)
450-500g (or more depending on personal preference) of choice
of hams: capicola, deli ham, prosciutto, Genoa salami, mortadella
150g sliced mozzarella cheese
150g sliced provolone

Slice round bread in half horizontally. Place both sides on flat surface. If bread is very puffy, dig out a bit of loaf in the middle. On bottom put half the olive salad. Start from centre and spread it out, leaving about a half inch around the edge.

Layer on fillings: meat, meat, cheese, meat, cheese. Add rest of olive salad. Place top half of bread over olive mix; press down lightly to help bread absorb juices. Wrap; rest in fridge for a bit with plate on top to meld flavours.

Bring to room temperature before serving; slice into wedges.

You can place sandwich, before slicing, on baking sheet and warm in 350° preheated oven for 6-8 minutes.

Muffuletta Bread Round
3 ⅓ cups flour
2 ¼ tsp fast acting yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
¼ cup olive oil
1 ¼ cups water, room temperature
2 tbsp white sesame seeds, untoasted

Put flour in large mixing bowl, add salt, yeast. Make sure each is on opposite sides of bowl. Stir each in gently with finger. Be careful not to let yeast and salt touch; the salt can kill or stunt yeast. Add sugar, oil, half the water. Stir by hand or with dough hook until mixture starts to come together. Keep stirring; gradually add more water until flour is all incorporated and sticky dough forms.

Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface; knead about 10 minutes or until no longer sticky. Or use mixer and dough hook on low and knead for about 10 minutes. To check if ready, dough needs to pass windowpane test. Check by stretching a bit of dough between thumb and forefinger of each hand. If it’s translucent in places and doesn’t break, it’s ready. If it breaks, knead one more minute, check again.

Add about 2 tsp of olive oil into large mixing bowl. Shape dough into ball; turn dough in oil to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; prove at room temperature until doubled in size (about 1 ½ hours). Once dough has doubled, punch down to get rid of any air pockets. Place on prepared baking sheet (I use parchment so it doesn’t stick). Shape into flat disc about 9 inches around.

Spritz top of dough with little bit of water, rub it onto surface. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, gently press them into dough. Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap; prove again at room temperature until doubled, about 1 hour. It’s ready when it springs back quickly when prodded with fingertip.

Before loaf has proved, preheat oven to 425°.

Remove plastic wrap; bake 10 minutes at 425°. Then lower temperature to 400°; bake another 15-17 minutes until loaf is golden brown. Let cool before slicing.

You can make dough the night before, then prove in fridge overnight. Shape into a loaf, prove, bake as directed.

Homemade Olive Salad for Muffuletta
Or you can purchase it at delis or buy olive bruschetta mix
¾ cup pimento stuffed
green olives
¼ cup pitted kalamata olives
¼ cup jarred Italian giardiniera
2-3 large pepperoncini
4-5 small pickled onions
2 tbsp capers
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp pepper
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil

Drain the green olives, kalamata olives, giardiniera, pepperoncini, pickled onions, capers. Place in food processor along with garlic, oregano, pepper, lemon juice, olive oil. Pulse until coarsely chopped, refrigerate until needed.

Amalgamated/adapted from:

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