by Tahni Segars
With the holidays approaching, I’ve been racking my brain for homemade gift ideas. Sure, who wouldn’t want the newest iPad or a shiny kitchen gizmo? But gifts from the heart are always what I remember and enjoy the most. My go-to solution is usually a reproduced or re-purposed photo that captures a perfect memory for my intended giftee.
But as I shuffled through old photos, searching for an ideal snapshot, I came across an album of a trip to New Orleans I took with a group of friends. After flipping through a handful of pictures, I found myself grinning ear to ear. Instead of finding a memory-sparking photo that I could offer a family member, I found a nostalgia-inducing gift for myself. The album provided a glimpse of our trip — adventuring through the French Quarter, soaking up the sun around Lake Pontchartrain and indulging on Café Du Monde’s mouthwatering beignets.
Whenever I travel, I find the best way to truly experience a culture is through the food. And New Orleans had plenty to offer. After we dusted ourselves off from a powdered sugar shower at Café Du Monde, we ventured out for even more saintly fare.
The week we spent in the Crescent City was filled with bite after bite of heavenly cuisine, but there was one treat I couldn’t pass up when it made an appearance on any menu we came across: The muffaletta.
The delicious sandwich made a lasting impression. In the seven days we spent in NOLA, I indulged in the muffaletta a few times. Sliced prosciutto, Genoa salami and mortadella team up with provolone and Swiss cheese and olive salad in this Big Easy original. The shining star, of course, is the olive salad.
The sandwich got its start in 1906, hailing from Italian immigrants who ran Central Grocery in the French Quarter. Though the fluffy bread that gives the sandwich its name is nothing shy of heavenly, it’s the olive salad I can’t do without. The original spread is made of diced olives, cauliflower, celery, carrots, olive oil and spices.
And while I’ll still be working on creating some meaningful family gifts, I think I’ll indulge once again on a gift for myself. Before I make it to the table for the Christmas ham, I’ll be whipping up Blake Royer’s take on my favorite New Orleans snack, reminiscing about Bourbon Street, Spanish moss and the St. Louis Cathedral. His recipe adds another of my favorites to the mix: roasted red peppers.
1 cup pitted mixed olives, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced celery
½ cup roasted red pepper strips
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
(For the sandwich)
1 loaf focaccia, halved lengthwise, cut into quarters
4 ounces ham, salami, capicola, or a mix, thinly sliced
4 ounces mortadella, thinly sliced
4 ounces provolone cheese
Combine olives, shallot, celery, red pepper and olive oil and a small bowl. Stir to combine. Season with vinegar, salt and pepper.
Tear out some of the doughy insides of the bread if it’s especially thick, and lay bread slices face up on cutting board. Spoon olive mixture on both top and bottom halves. Layer meat and cheese onto bottom halves, and then place on top halves. Serve immediately, or for better flavor, wrap in plastic and allow bread to soak up juices for one hour before serving.
May the sun shine through your branches.