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Muffuletta Sandwiches and Cajun Succotash

You guys are just too much. Thanks to your votes, we’ve made it through round 5 of Project Food Blog! This is my entry for challenge #6: pack a full meal to go that looks and tastes great.

[Update 10/30: Sadly, we're officially out of the competition but thank you so much for all your support, both in terms of votes and sweet comments. More than anything, it's been really fun meeting so many new-to-me bloggers and discovering lots of great blogs. Good luck to everyone still in the competition!]

Almost a year and a half ago, almost at this same spot, and almost at this time of the day, Nathan and I agreed to go on a little adventure together. We sealed the agreement with a ring before heading off for some celebratory sushi (including, I kid you not, spoonfuls of happiness) and a rawk(!) show at the Hemlock Tavern. We then went home and spent the next six months planning the biggest party of our lives. So this weekend, about a week after our wedding anniversary, it seemed appropriate to take a little stroll over to where it all began.

We had wanted to spend a sunny afternoon picnicking by the lake, watching people float around in paddle boats, reliving the months leading up to the wedding. There was the funny story of how I was originally supposed to skip out of lab early that Friday, a year and a half ago, but a spontaneous meeting called by my boss nearly put a stop to our afternoon by the lake and Nathan’s secret plan to ask me a question. And the one of how we found that gorgeous Tibetan Buddhist center and how lucky we were that they had an open weekend last autumn due to a cancellation.

We could talk about us obsessively checking the weather forecast for weeks prior, relieved to hear that rain was forecasted only for a few days before our wedding. Little did we know then that the forecasted rain would turn into the biggest October storm to hit the Santa Cruz area since 1962. When the staff called us on Thursday night, two days before the wedding, to tell us that the center was closed due to mandatory evacuation orders, was running only on generator power, and that the roads leading to the center were partially buried under mudslides, we, to put it mildly, freaked out.

It was incredible how quickly our family and friends mobilized to help us reorganize the weekend of events, including dear Laura who was arranging alternate hotels for our guests even as she was walking down the jetway onto the plane that would bring her to our wedding. “We’re going to get married one way or another!” was what we declared to our guest list over email. Thankfully, the center reopened (with power!) Friday at dusk and one of the roads cleared for cars to pass.

We also wanted to reminisce about our wedding day, an amazing day which turned so sunny and warm that the heaters we rented weren’t even needed. Plus, there were all the hilarious stories of guests ignoring multiple emails to follow our driving directions instead of GPS and ending up on the other mud-buried road, so that they had to abandon their cars for the weekend, ford across the muddy road, and hitchhike the rest of the way to the wedding.

But then, for the second autumn in a row, the weather gods frowned upon us and sent us rain. “We’re going to have a picnic one way or another!” was what we declared to no one in particular. So we assembled a bag of goodies for the road – wedges of meaty, olivey muffuletta sandwiches on homemade bread, a tub of spicy Cajun succotash, a jug of sweet tea with mint (bourbon-ed at the last minute to ward off the chill of the rain), and a few sticky squares of strangely-apropos “dark and stormy” brownies. Rain jackets and umbrella in tow (singular because Nathan is steadfastly anti-umbrella), we made our way over to the lake, found a little bench under a gazebo, and did everything we had planned. Well, except the part about watching people float around in paddle boats for none could be found in this weather.

I guess when Nathan and I set our minds on something, whether it be a picnic or a wedding, we have a tendency to make it happen. Rain, mudslide, or shine.

Muffuletta sandwiches are perfect for picnics because they are best an hour or two after assembly. Plus, the instructions call for them to be smushed under heavy weights, which make them ideal for the bottom of your picnic baskets. Instructions are given below for making your own muffuletta loaves but don’t let bread-making stop you. Store-bought, Italian-style bread would work quite well as a substitute.

Since Central Grocery, where muffuletta sandwiches were invented, does not give out its recipe, many people have tried to reverse-engineer it. This recipe is based off of the one found in the book It’s All American Food, but modified to use half the amount of meat and cheese – seriously, just look at that original recipe and you’ll see why we halved it. Due to a shopping mistake, I used pimiento-stuffed olives in place of pimiento in the olive salad, but that still made for a pretty tasty spread.

Succotash can be served cold or at room temperature and in fact, that’s how I prefer to eat it. This Cajun version uses okra in place of the traditional beans and adds chili powder and jalapeños for a bit of heat.

For the muffuletta loaves:
4½ cups all-purpose flour (and a bit extra)
1½ cups + 1 Tbsp warm water
1 Tbsp + 1½ tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil (and a bit extra)
2 tsp instant yeast (or 2½ tsp active-dry yeast)
4 Tbsp sesame seeds

For the muffuletta sandwiches:
1½ cup mix of green and black olives, pitted, coarsely chopped
½ cup pimiento-stuffed olives, coarsely chopped
¼ cup celery, finely chopped
¼ cup carrots, finely chopped
¼ cup scallions, finely chopped
6 Tbsp garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbsp capers
½ cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
6 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 lb sliced Italian deli meats (e.g. salami, mortadella, ham, coppa, etc)
½ lb of sliced provolone cheese

For the Cajun succotash:
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
2 cups corn kernels
1½ cups okra, diced
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp chili powder
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

Make the spread for the sandwiches (day before): In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except half of the garlic, the sliced meats, and cheese. Cover and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. Bring to room temperature before using in sandwiches.

Make the muffuletta loaves (can also be done day before): (If using active dry yeast, combine the warm water with the sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast. Wait about 10-15 min until foamy. Proceed with recipe but remember that you don’t need to add additional water or sugar.)

Combine flour, water, salt, sugar, 2 Tbsp of olive oil, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook on low speed, mix until all the ingredients are combined. Increase speed to medium and knead for another 5 min. Meanwhile, lightly oil a large bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured board and knead with your hand until the dough is smooth, slightly stiff, but a little bit sticky (due to the oil). Place the dough ball in the oiled bowl and flip to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1.5 hours.

Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly-floured board and gently flatten to release the gases. Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each into a tight ball. Cover and let rest for 15 min.

Lightly oil two 8-inch round cake pans (or in my case, tart pans since that’s what I have). Using a floured rolling pin, gently flatten each dough ball into a disk, about 8 inches across. Place each disk in a prepared pan and poke the surface with a fork about 8-10 times. Cover loaves with a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1.5 hours.

Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450F. Using a spray bottle, mist the loaves with water and sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds. Place loaves in the oven, quickly direct a few sprays of water to the sides of the oven, and close the oven door. Within the first few mins of baking, repeat the water-spraying procedure a couple more times. Bake the loaves for a total of 25 min, until the tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely in the pans on wire racks before using. You can store the bread in the fridge, wrapped in plastic or in ziploc bags, if not using until the next day.

Assemble the sandwiches (hours before): In a small bowl, combine the other half of the chopped garlic with a few spoonfuls of the oil from the olive spread. Slice one bread loaf in half horizontally. Using a spoon, spread a quarter of the garlic oil on one side and a quarter on the other side . Stir the olive mixture well. On the bottom piece of bread, evenly spread a quarter of the olive mixture. Top with half of the sliced meats and cheese and finish with another quarter of the olive mixture, then the top piece of bread. Repeat with the other loaf of bread. Wrap the sandwiches in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (or up to 6 hours) before serving, placing heavy weights on top of the sandwiches to press them. Slice each loaf into 4 wedges to serve.

Make the succotash (can be done anytime): Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute for a few min, until onions start to soften. Add in garlic, bell pepper, and jalapeño and saute for another min. Add in corn and okra and cook for 4-5 min. Add in tomatoes and cook for another min. Add in stock, paprika, chili powder, a bit of salt and pepper and simmer for 10-15 min. You want the vegetables to cook but remain slightly crunchy (instead of mushy). Finally, add in basil, oregano, and thyme. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve warm or let cool until picnic time.


Yield: 2 giant sandwiches (more than enough for 4-5 people) with 4-5 servings of succotash as a side
Time:
-Muffuletta loaves: ~15 min prep + 4-5 hrs rising/baking time
-Muffuletta sandwiches: 30 min prep + 12-24 hrs marinating + at least 1 hr sandwich-pressing
-Succotash: 1 hr

62 Comments

  1. Damaris said:
    28 October 2010 at 3:45 am

    My friend Mariko said I had to check out this post. Now I know why. That sandwich is my dream come true.

    Just voted for you!

    • angi said:
      29 October 2010 at 9:16 pm

      Gotta thank Mariko for sending you my way. :) Thanks for the vote, Damaris!

  2. 28 October 2010 at 11:45 am

    That sandwich alone could brighten anyone’s day !

    • angi said:
      29 October 2010 at 9:16 pm

      Thanks Sharlene!

  3. 28 October 2010 at 12:39 pm

    what a great wedding story and a super cute anniversary picnic! it doesn’t matter if it pours every year from now on, the sun came out for the two of you :)

    • angi said:
      29 October 2010 at 9:17 pm

      Yeah – bring it, weather gods! :) Thanks Zhaos!

  4. 29 October 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Ok now that is what I call sandwich. Congratulation on making it to round 5 on challange.

    • angi said:
      29 October 2010 at 9:18 pm

      This sandwich was serious stuff – my arm was sore just lifting it. :) Thanks Chandani!

  5. Danielle said:
    30 October 2010 at 1:28 am

    Rainy picnics are actually pretty romantic, methinks. Everyone stays in, which means peace and quiet outdoors….Who needs all that golden sunshine all the time anyway? :P

    • angi said:
      30 October 2010 at 8:00 pm

      You’re so right Danielle! It was so nice and quiet in the park – no jostling around for a bench under the gazebo, even. I might be a new rainy-day picnic convert. :)

  6. Mindy said:
    3 November 2010 at 2:41 am

    I love this post, and your blog! I voted for you. I was sorry to see you didn’t make it to the next round, but really pleased to find an awesome new blog.

    • angi said:
      3 November 2010 at 8:22 pm

      Mindy, thanks so much for this sweet comment. I’m a little sad not to be going on in PFB but honestly, there are so many great bloggers in the competition that I’m not all that surprised. Besides, now I can cheer them on as a spectator which is fun in its own right. :)

  7. 5 November 2010 at 6:09 am

    What? You didn’t advance? What is wrong with the world? I’m bummed to see such a great contender out of the running b/c I absolutely adore your photos. So crisp and clean and just really right up my alley. Regardless, each of us will be out b/c there can only be 1 left standing, so please please continue to blog and write and take amazing pictures b/c there’s bloggers like myself who really appreciate great work when I see it! Good luck!

    • angi said:
      8 November 2010 at 7:23 pm

      Chandara, did I totally miss you at the festival this weekend? But thanks so much for your sweet comments. No worries, I still have lots of stuff I plan to blog about…although I likely won’t be posting every week because that was getting difficult to keep up along with trying to be a grad student. :) I can’t wait to see your challenge 7 video!

  8. Peggy said:
    15 November 2010 at 10:54 am

    A lot of men seem to be anti-umbrella! I just don’t get it! But this picnic sounds so sweet, and I love your sweet story in this post as well! You were a winner in my book!

    • angi said:
      17 November 2010 at 11:10 am

      You’re right Peggy – it does seem to be a men thing (see Brad’s comment below, for example). Thanks for reading!

  9. Brad said:
    16 November 2010 at 11:26 pm

    I love all the Nathan anti-umbrella comments. I have to admit, I’m sort of anti-umbrella too. If its light to medium rain, just throw a rain coat on, put your hoodie up, and start walking. If it looks like rain, you’re probably throwing your gortex coat on anyway, and an umbrella is just a hassle to carry and when it starts raining you have to hold it. Imagine all the things you can do in the rain when you have free use of both arms!

    Anyway, the Muffuletta sandwich looks great! Sucks that you’re out of the competition, it was fun to follow, your food always looks great! Happy Anniversary!

    • angi said:
      17 November 2010 at 11:12 am

      Oh Brad, you and Nathan should start an anti-umbrella club. But also, what if the umbrella has cute little Japanese cartoon characters on it – does that change anything?? :D

  10. 18 November 2010 at 1:13 am

    What a fun name for a sandwich. I wonder who thought it up. I’ve never heard of them before but they look seriously good and anything that is better made ahead seriously has my name all over it!

    • angi said:
      19 November 2010 at 11:06 am

      I’m not sure who thought up the sandwich name but I know the sandwich itself was supposedly made famous by this one store called Central Grocery in New Orleans. They need to give whoever invented this sandwich a prize! :)

  11. emma said:
    9 December 2010 at 1:34 am

    I personally didn’t perver to try this agian. Not as good as I expected.My opinion though…

    • angi said:
      9 December 2010 at 6:22 pm

      I’m sorry to hear that, Emma. Would you be able to tell me what you didn’t like about the recipe? Maybe this can help others who come along later who want to try this out… Thanks for visiting!

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