Muffaletta Cobb Salad
by Victoria Challancin
If I am being seriously honest, I am not an organized person. Like most of us, I have my areas of order, but my house looks like someone traveled the world and then carelessly sprinkled her trinkets and treasures willy-nilly about the various rooms. No rhyme or reason. Just the treasures of my heart placed about so that I can look upon them and smile. And remember.
But when it comes to cooking, I have a confession: I love the look of an organized plate. Mine rarely are, but when I do take the time to carefully arrange ingredients, it pleases me. And a Cobb Salad is a perfect excuse to embrace my secret love of order. Or order on occasion, to be precise.
Before we come to the recipe, though, let's sort out two things: What exactly is a Cobb Salad? And what, oh what is Muffaletta?
Cobb Salad: A Little Background
Back in May of 2008 I posted a recipe for a re-invented Cobb Salad made with pickled quail eggs, Gruyère cheese, and shrimp (to name but a few of the ingredients) with a low-fat Green Goddess Dressing. Delicious. You can find the recipe here.
In that post, I explained what a Cobb Salad is, or originally was:
In 1937 an overnight salad sensation was born at Hollywood's The Brown Derby restaurant, when the hungry owner, Bob Cobb, threw together an assortment of salad ingredients to satisfy his late-night hunger. According to Arthur Schwartz, NYC's "Food Maven," more than 4 million Cobb salads have been sold at Brown Derby restaurants since that time. It is easy to understand why: the salad is beautiful, full of healthy ingredients, and above all, the recipe is flexible. While the original recipe calls for chicken, bacon, and blue cheese, this salad begs for reinterpretation. Because it is so perfect for Sa Miguel's al fresco dining style, I have prepared it over the years in a variety of styles: Italian, Thai, Mexican, and French.
The most recent incarnation of this salad was made with a nod to New Orleans, home of what is unarguably the most interesting, distinct, and diverse of all American regional cuisines.
Muffaletta: A New Orleans Classic
According to Wikipedia, the muffaletta is both a type of round Sicilian sesame bread and a popular submarine-style sandwich which originated among Italian immigrants in New Orleans. Before doing a little research, if you had asked me, I would probably have guessed that it was a sort of spin-off from the French pan bagnat, which I wrote about here. But now that I think of the ingredients traditionally used and the name itself (clearly Italian), Italian origins make more sense, though the ingredients in both French and Italian versions produce a luscious, wet, rich sandwich worthy of investigation.
No matter if you use the large, round, somewhat flat muffaletta bread or some crusty baguette or other hardy sandwich bread, your filling will be basically the same: some sort of olive salad with giardiniera pickled vegetables, salami, oregano, garlic, olive oil, and provolone--all marinated for at least 24 hours.
Quoting from Wikipedia:
"According to Marie Lupo Tusa, daughter of the Central Grocery's founder [where the sandwich apparently originate], it was born when Sicilian farmers selling their produce at the nearby Farmers' Market would come into her father's grocery for lunch and order some salami, ham, cheese, olive salad, and either long braided Italian bread or a round muffaletta loaf. In typical Sicilian fashion they ate everything separately sitting on crates or barrels while precariously balancing their meals on their knees. Her father suggested cutting the bread and putting everything on it like a sandwich, even if it was not typical Sicilian fashion. The thicker braided Italian bread proved too hard to bite and the softer round muffaletta loaf won out. Shortly thereafter, farmers that come for lunch began merely asking for 'muffaletta'".
Today the sandwich is offered all over New Orleans in quarters, halves, and full-sizes, served hot (to melt the cheese) or cold. Note that like many foreign-based terms, the spelling of the word "muffaletta" can vary greatly.
The undressed salad--naked and beautiful
There are many terrific versions of muffaletta available online, such as that of Bobby Flay or Paul Prudhomme. For some reason I based my version lightly on a recipe from Palladio Restaurant of Rochester, NY--not from New Orleans at all!
Cook's Notes: For local San Miguel readers, the pepperoncini peppers came from Mega in bulk near the prepared food at Comercial Mexicana, but they also carry jarred giardiniera. Remember that this recipe is flexible--choose the ingredients that appeal most to you. I chose to make a dressing with horseradish, but any vinaigrette would work.
Muffaletta Cobb Salad
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin lightly based on a recipe from Palladio Restaurant of Rochester, NY)
For the salad:
1 cup pitted Spanish green olives (use pimento-stuffed if preferred)
1 cup pitted brine-cured black olives (such as Kalamata)
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 bunch chopped fresh basil (leave whole if leaves are small)
1 cup pepperoncini peppers
3 ribs celer, chopped
1 cucumber, seeded, peeled, and chopped
2 bell peppers of mixed colors, roasted, peeled, and chopped
1 red-leaf lettuce, leaves separated
8 ounces provolone cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, or thinly sliced
8 ounces thick-cut Genoa or hard salami, cut into small pieces (wedges preferred)
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly grated horseradish or used prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Dash hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
Dash Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the salami and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, 7 to 8 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and set aside.
To make the dressing: Whisk the ingredients together and set aside.
To assemble the salad: Line a platter with the lettuce leaves. Make lines of color using the salad ingredients, alternating colors on top of the lettuce. Drizzle with the dressing and serve.
Angus, the Love Sponge
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
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