Everybody who’s been to a Greek restaurant knows moussaka, cucumber salad and baklava. But real Greek cooking is so much more.
Have you ever heard of trahana and mastiha? Does Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms sound like a recipe from Provence or Firenze? And what about the dozens of amazing regional cheeses which most of us don’t know and can’t pronounce, like xinomyzithra, kalathaki limnou and kasseri. These are some of the surprising ingredients and foods which Greece gives us.
For the next couple of months, we’ll post a recipe a week featuring some of the favorite dishes we’ve tried and tested this year at our Greek cookbook club.
In the meantime, if you’re buried under four feet of snow right now, maybe you could use a vicarious trip to a white Aegean beach, best enjoyed with a big helping of Greek comfort food, Feta Rice Casserole with Fennel.
Wait a second. Why did I have to travel 1500 miles to have of the best Mexican food I’ve ever tasted?
Jessalyn, I and a bunch of new friends just took a class from Zoe Maya at Haven’s Kitchen in New York City. Can’t wait to share more about the recipes in the next couple of days. In the meantime, can you guess the surprising hit of the evening (at least for me) from the menu above?
Comfort food may be hard to define, but we all know it when we taste it.
Merriam-Webster says it’s “food that is satisfying because it is prepared in a simple or traditional way and reminds you of home, family, or friends.” Well, my mom prepared carrot sticks, but that’s certainly not high on my list when I need a little TLC from my food.
No, I want fried chicken, chocolate cake or cheesy enchiladas. Give me a fat, juicy hamburger with a side of truffle fries or my favorite, cheese grits. What exactly makes those comfort foods? And why, oh why do they have to contain so many calories??
Turns out it’s the fat. When fatty acids are delivered to the stomach from that big bowl of Ben and Jerry’s, our mood actually lifts, stress-levels decrease and we feel less depressed. This happens in experiments even with the fat is delivered directly into the stomach.
When we were in Italy years ago, John was a pre-adolescent with an amazingly adventurous appetite. Wherever we were, he -at 12 years old- scoured the menu and ordered the most exotic dish on it. Cinghiale or wild boar, cuttle fish and “squid in its own ink” all made it onto our Italian table that summer. One night we stayed at a strange, old villa hidden on a mountainside northeast of Naples. As far as I could tell, we were the only guests in the rambling hotel (which was a little creepy) and, when we sat down for dinner, had the whole restaurant to ourselves. The menu was extensive and young John ordered the cavallo orhorsemeat smothered in gravy. He promptly devoured every bit, so it must have been good, and it certainly looked delicious.
Now I’m not sure if cavallo in gravy is on your list of comfort foods -unless your mother is Italian- but this beef roast should be. The recipe checks both boxes: It’s reminiscent of the traditional roast your mom made, with the addition of celery and tomatoes for a light, Italian twist. And the beef sends just enough fatty acids to your tummy to make you smile. Oh, and it tastes just like that cinghiale stew John had 15 years ago in Rome.
You don’t really need a recipe for this dish, so be like Mom and just throw in what sounds good. Like garlic? Add a couple extra cloves. Have some oregano in your garden? Great! Don’t measure the wine, just pour and estimate. Simply know that the celery and tomato give this roast it’s distinctive Italian taste.
Pair it with Gorgonzola Polenta for hearty, comforting winter dinner which just happens to be gluten free.
This dish is a cheesy, buttery and a bit flamboyant (with all that blue cheese) Italian cousin to grits. Since grits are the #1 comfort food of all time (in my mind at least), this polenta recipe can’t be much lower than, what, #4 or 5?
On a cold winter night, the umami-rich gorgonzola flavor and warm creamy texture make for a hearty and soothing side to Italian Pot Roast or, if you’re eating light, frozen steamed broccoli. And, yeah, it’s awesome reheated in the microwave the next day. (Plus it’s gluten free.)
I’d be thrilled to report we first had this dish on a long, extravagant tour of the Middle East…but sadly, no. We tried it at a potluck lunch at our son’s school.
One of the mothers who was originally from Iran used to bring a carload of homemade food to serve the volunteers at the annual debate tournament. I had no idea the names of the dishes we carried out of the backseat for her (One was baklava-like, another a ricotta cheese-based dessert), but they were the most fascinating, exotic recipes my family had ever tasted. No wonder that four day-long debate tournament had plenty of volunteers!
A little googling yielded a recipe for her spectacular main course -a huge pan of cinnamon, cardamom and saffron-infused rice piled high with dried fruits, nuts and meat. It was a meal fit for a king! Not a Buckingham Palace king, but one who sits on Oriental carpets in a tent under desert stars. The dish, Jeweled Rice, is appropriately named because of the bright, multi-colored spices and ingredients decorating the rice.
The recipe is versatile, too. With meat it’s a one-dish dinner. Eliminate that and it becomes an unusual accompaniment. Don’t like lamb? Substitute beef, poultry or even some of that leftover turkey.
And if you ever need a dozen or so volunteers for a boring and mundane assignment, bring this! And there’s nothing wrong with a little hands-off management if, like that Persian prince, you decide to enjoy a big plate of Jeweled Rice while your helpers do all the work.
1½ pounds lamb stew meat (ask butcher to cut it for you) Or substitute poultry or beef, if you prefer.
¾ cup butter, divided use
2 tablespoon salt, divided use
½ cup whole dried cranberries (or dried barberries, if you can find them)
½ cup sultanas or golden raisins
½ cup dried apricots, chopped
1 teaspoon loosely packed saffron or ½ teaspoon ground tumeric
⅓ cup sugar, divided
¼ cup orange blossom water
½ cup sliced raw almonds, toasted
½ cup pistachios, toasted and chopped
2-3 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 2-inch matchsticks
1 piece 4-inch stick cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
½ teaspoon black pepper
For the rice layer:
Rinse the rice in a colander or sieve until the water runs clear. Place in a pot with 1 tablespoon salt, cover with water and soak for 2 hours or more. After soaking, drain the rice, return it to the pan. Cover it with water and add ½ tablespoon salt. Bring to boil and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes once rice has begun to boil. Remove from heat and drain rice in the sieve.
For the lamb layer:
Cut the lamb stew pieces into ½ inch chunks (if the butcher did not do this for you.). In a large frying pan, heat ½ tablespoon butter and brown the lamb pieces until cooked, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
For the dried fruit/nut layer:
In a large sauce or frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons butter. Add the almonds and pistachios and sauté for about a minute. Add the raisins, cranberries (or barberries) and dried apricots and toss with the nuts. Empty into bowl and set aside.
For the orange/carrot layer:
Use a vegetable peeler to remove the rind from the oranges. Slice the peel into very narrow slivers 1- 1½ inches long. Put the slivers into a small pot of boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Remove the orange peel and set aside. (This reduces the bitterness of the orange.)
Using a mortar or even your fingers, crush the saffron threads with a few pinches of sugar until a powder forms. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the orange blossom water and set aside.
In the same pan used for the fruit and nuts, heat 2 tablespoons of the saffron orange blossom water mixture, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the sliced carrots and orange peel and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the remaining sugar, the remaining orange blossom water, the cinnamon and cardamom and sauté for about a minute. Add 1 cup water, bring to a boil, then lower to medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes until the carrots slightly caramelize and the liquid has reduced to a syrup.
In a wide, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid (We used an 11 inch stovetop pot), melt 6 tablespoons butter and cover with ground black pepper. Layer with ⅓ of the rice, making sure it is evenly spread over the bottom of the pan. Cover this layer with ½ of the fruit/nuts, ½ of the carrot/oranges (including the syrup) and ½ of the lamb. Repeat the layers, then top with the remaining ⅓ of the rice.
Make 5 or 6 holes in rice to the bottom of the pan with the handle of a wooden spoon. Dot with the remaining butter. Cover the pot with a kitchen towel and a heavy to prevent steam from escaping. Be sure to fold up the corners of the towel to keep it from burning! Cook over moderate heat for about 30 minutes.
To serve, spoon the Jeweled Rice into a mound on a large platter. Sprinkle with a few more nuts and dried fruit, if desired.
Whew! Our decorations are up…The house is in full holiday mode. Two trees, 5 stockings, all those wreaths. Suddenly it’s Christmastime at the Kee home.
Or maybe not.
How can one possibly be in the holiday spirit when it’s 80 degrees outside? When the calendar says December, but the temperature says May? And we’re wearing shorts and flip-flops instead of mufflers, gloves and cupping a warm mug of hot chocolate by the skating pond. When it’s TOO #$%# WARM!
Welcome to the holidays in Texas.
Now if you live in Maine or Illinois, we hear you loud and clear, “Quit complaining!” But if you’re like me and you live in a land of heat- often unbearable, don’t-go-outside-for-3-days, August heat, you CRAVE some cold. Just a small dip below 40º would be wonderful. Maybe a tiny blizzard. Or a thin sheet of ice. Heck, even a snowflake or two would cause spasms of excitement.
Alas, not in Texas. At least not today when it’s verging on perfect weather.
One person in the family is happy though. Sarah, home from college in the cold northeast, has set up the hammock in the backyard and is (insert air quotes) “doing homework” on her computer. Her only complaint? It’s too hot. She has to keep moving the hammock to chase the shade.
But let’s get into the holiday spirit…Have you ever been to New Mexico, especially Santa Fe or Taos, at Christmastime? It’s magical. Brightly lit farolitos line snow-covered streets. Piñon smoke wafts through the air and down canyon walls. Kiva fireplaces offer cozy corners for enjoying steamy bowls of hearty New Mexican soups.
We’ll be heading to Northern New Mexico in a few weeks for our annual stay after the holidays, but in the meantime we’ll go there -at least mentally- with bizcochitos, the state’s traditional Christmas cookie. Crunchy and addicting, each bite-size biscuit offers a burst of cinnamon sugar. And don’t be turned off by the use of lard. It adds flavor, crunchiness and is crucial to authentic bizcochitos.
And for you in colder climes like Colorado, Maine and Cape Cod, you get even with us next summer with your perfect days and nights. Oh, and did I mention?…All of us broiling in the heat down South, all 100 million of us, will be visiting. See you then!
½ pound (226 g) lard, softened (You MUST use lard for authentic bizcochitos)
½ cup (100 g) plus 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons rum or bourbon
grated zest of 1 orange
½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350º F (175º C)
In a large bowl, sift the flour and baking powder. Add anise seeds and stir to combine.
Beat the lard in the bowl of an electric mixer, gradually adding the sugar. Cream until extremely fluffy and light, about 8 minutes.
Add the egg, followed by the bourbon and orange zest, and continue beating just until mixed.
Slowly add the dry ingredients, beating no longer than necessary to combine. (You are seeking a stiff, pie-crust type dough.)
Chill the dough for about 15 minutes for easier handling.
On a floured surface, roll the dough to ¼ inch thickness and cut out with a small cookie cutter (no larger than 2 inches in diameter).
Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and cook for 15-20 minutes until the cookies are just set, pale golden, but not yet browned.
While the cookies are baking, stir together the topping ingredients.
When the cookies come out of the oven, let them cool for just a minute or two on the baking sheet, then gently dunk the top of each in the cinnamon-sugar topping. Lift, then repeat the dunking to ensure a thick sugary coating.
Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. The bizcochitos will keep in air-tight container for at least a week.
Every Christmas morning we serve Gram’s ginger muffins. Not sure where she got the recipe…maybe from some long-forgotten newspaper article. Or maybe it’s a family recipe. Since her parents were born just after the Civil War, perhaps it traveled with them from the Mississippi Delta of Arkansas 400 miles down to Texas. Or maybe it’s older than that.
Whatever…Gram’s recipe is a subtle, mildly-gingered light cake. In the tradition of changing tastes, though, through the years we’ve updated Gram’s recipe, pumping up the ginger, doubling the other spices and using more butter than Crisco.
1¼ cups butter (or 1 cup butter, plus ¼ cup shortening for a crunchier muffin top)
1 cup light molasses
1 cup sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 tablespoons dried ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup crystallized ginger chunks, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl, cream butter (and shortening, if applicable) and sugar with mixer for several minutes until light and fluffy.
Add eggs to mixing bowl and combine.
In a small bowl, add soda to molasses, stirring well, then stir in grated fresh ginger. Add to sugar/molasses and mix.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, dried ginger, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Alternately with the buttermilk (beginning and ending with the milk), add the dry ingredients and buttermilk to the molasses/sugar. Mix just until combined, then stir in crystallized ginger.
At this point the dough can be covered and kept in the fridge for several days. If so, bring the dough to room temperature before baking.
When ready to bake, spoon into well-greased muffin cups. Optionally sprinkle the tops with a little sugar, then bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean.
Lizzy -when she was working in Paris after college- kept telling us about this unbelievable sweet, soft yet crispy pastry with a caramelized bottom. It originated outside Paris, in Brittany, and she swore we’d never had anything like it. And, Lizzy said, only one shop in all of Paris offered the real deal. For the life of me though, I couldn’t remember the pastry’s name. It didn’t sound French. And when I asked her to spell it, that confused me even more.
One late December afternoon when we were walking down the Rue de Rivoli near our vacation apartment in the Marais, Lizzy did an about-face and ran back to the store behind us. It was Larnicol, an outpost of the famous Boulevard Saint-Germain shop that single-handedly brought the elusive Breton treat, kouign-amann, to the capital. And inside the window was tray after tray of small, spiraled pastries neatly displayed beneath signs labeled, Rhum-Raisins, Cerise and Praliné.
Finally I’d get to try the pâtisserie!
Mais no! It was too late in the day, Lizzy said. We needed to come back early morning, when they were fresh from the oven.
Who am I to argue with such a forceful professeur? So we waited. And eventually one morning before class, Lizzy arrived on the landing of our flat with a bag full of kouign-amann or kouignettes, as the individual sized pastries are known. She spilled the contents onto the kitchen counter –pistache, framboise and her favorite, salted butter caramel.
And were they as good as Lizzy and the legions of French foodie fans say?
We took our first bite…The kouign-amann was a delicious, addicting and complicated combination of crunchy, soft, sweet and buttery, much like a croissant, maybe even better. Yes, better. So it’s true… the pastries are as good and unique as everyone says.
By the way… kouign-amann, means “butter cake” in Breton, a Celtic language which is most closely related to southwest Britain’s Cornish. And now that I’ve tasted these treats both in France and stateside, I never, ever forget their pronunciation. It’s “queen ah-mahn.”
After enjoying kouign-amann in Paris, of course we wanted to make them at home. You can find recipes from several sources on the internet, but all look a bit intimidating. Honestly, though, this is an easy recipe. Granted it is time-consuming and takes about 4 hours to complete the rolling and turning which creates the myriad layers of butter, sugar and pastry. Plan this as a fun project for a cold, rainy afternoon or for that special brunch with family over the holidays. The results really are worth it.
We call this “Kitchen Pantry Kouign-Amann” because you shoul look through your pantry and fridge for your favorite jams, jellies, nuts, chocolates, etc. to flavor the pastries. We’ve experimented with the following from our kitchen: apricot Trinquelinette jam and pecans; raspberry jam and almonds; raspberry jam , white chocolate and almonds; dark chocolate; and our favorite (just as in Paris) salted caramel.
A few things to keep in mind as you’re making kouign-amann:
The basic concept of this recipe -or any other puff pastry- is to create layers, in this case layer upon layer of butter, dough, and sugar cinnamon. You accomplish this by spreading butter, then cinnamon sugar on top of the dough. You multiply the layers by folding them one on top of the other. This is known as “turning the dough.” (Yes, you actually rotate the dough 90 degrees every time you “turn,” thus the name.) For those who aren’t familiar with “turning,” we describe it below both in the recipe and in pictures. It really isn’t hard at all!
Keep the butter cool. If the butter gets too mushy, stick the “project” in the fridge for a few minutes.
Keep your counter and rolling pin sufficiently floured during while “turning.” That will probably be obvious!
8 ounces cold salted butter, plus extra to grease the pans
1½ cups sugar, divided, plus extra for shaping the pastries
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
To flavor the pastries, dig out your favorite jams, jellies, nuts, chocolate, etc. from your pantry and fridge. (Be creative with combinations!)
Combine the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let the mixture stand for a few minutes to dissolve. Add 2½ cups of the flour (reserving ¼ cup for later) and the salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until a sticky, shaggy dough is formed.
Fit your mixer with the dough hook and knead the dough at low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until the dough is slightly tacky but smooth. If the dough is so wet it sticks to the sides of the bowl, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time and knead until the dough is smooth. If the dough is stiff and dry, add 1 tablespoon of water at a time and knead until the dough is smooth. (If not using a mixer, knead the dough by hand for about 7 minutes until smooth.)
Cover the mixing bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place for one hour, until doubled in size. When the dough has doubled, place it in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes or as long as overnight. (Remember: Chilling the dough is important.)
When the dough is chilled and you're ready to proceed, sprinkle your counter with a tablespoon or two of the remaining flour. Lay the butter on top and sprinkle with another tablespoon or two of flour. (Picture #1 below.) Begin tapping the top of the butter with your rolling pin, and then pound more forcefully once the flour sticks to the butter.
Pound the butter flat. (You want to end up with one large piece of butter, so if you're using two sticks of butter, quickly smoosh them together with your fingers between poundings.) Then fold the butter in half using a spatula to avoid warming the butter with your hands. Pound the butter flat and fold it in half again. Repeat another 2 to 3 times until the butter is very pliable, flattens with a few hits of the rolling pin, and folds easily. Sprinkle with additional flour if needed to prevent the butter from sticking.
Pound the butter into a rectangle roughly 6 inches by 10 inches. (Picture #2) Transfer to a baking sheet and refrigerate while you roll out the dough. (Do not refrigerate the butter for longer than 15 minutes or it will be too stiff.)
(Note about the following steps: Now you'll begin "turning" the dough, i.e. rolling, folding and turning, to create lots of buttery, sugary layers. You will do four "turns" before you finish the kouign-amann. Remember that the butter shouldn't get too warm. If you have to stop the turning process to answer the phone, etc., put it in the fridge for a few minutes.)...Flour the counter, then place the chilled dough on top, and roll it to a rectangle 12 inches by 20 inches. (Picture #3)
Take the butter out of the fridge and place it in the middle of the dough. (Picture #4) Fold the top third down over the butter, then fold the bottom third up, like folding a letter.(Pictures #5 and #6)
Rotate the piece of dough and butter so that the narrower, open end is facing you, like you're reading a book. (Picture #7) Roll the dough out to a rectangle 12 inches wide by 20 inches long. (So it looks like Picture #3) Fold the top third down and the bottom third up, like folding up a letter.
Rotate the dough 90 degrees so that the open end is again facing you, like a book (the book view). Again roll the dough out to a rectangle 12 inches wide by 20 inches long. Fold the top third down and the bottom third up, like folding a letter. You have now completed 2 turns.
Move the dough to the baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes. (Don't leave it in much longer or the butter will become too stiff.) While the dough is chilling, mix the sugar with the cinnamon.
(Note on steps below: Now you'll remove the dough from the fridge and repeat the process above, this time adding sugar to each "turn.")... Specifically, transfer the dough to a well-floured counter. With the narrow open end facing you (the "book view"), roll the dough out to a rectangle 12 inches wide by 20 inches long. Sprinkle it all over with ¾ cups of sugar/cinnamon mixture and press it lightly to help it stick. Fold the top third down and the bottom third up, like folding a letter.
Rotate the dough 90 degrees so that the open end is again facing you (the "book view."). Roll the dough out to a rectangle 12 inches wide by 20 inches long. Sprinkle it all over with the remaining ¾ cups of sugar/cinnamon and lightly press it into the dough. Fold the top third down and the bottom third up, like folding a letter. If any sugar falls out, press it back into the folds. You have now finished 4 total turns. Move the dough to the baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes. Meanwhile,liberally butter the insides of the muffin tins (total of 12 muffins).
Sprinkle the counter with sugar. Remove the dough from the fridge and move it to the counter. Sprinkle a little sugar over the top of the dough. Roll the dough out to a rectangle approximately 8 inches wide by 24 inches long.
Slice the dough horizontally into two strips 4 inches wide. Cut each strip into 4-inch squares to create 12 squares. Leave the square empty or put a scant teaspoon or so of your favorite jam, jelly, chocolate, etc. into the middle. (Don't be tempted to put much more of ingredients which melt or you may lose the crispiness of the pastry.) Add nuts, if desired. Fold the corners of each square toward the center. Pick up each pastry and tuck it into the muffin tins. Don't worry if it feels like you're squishing them...That's okay.
At this point you can cover the muffin tins and transfer them to the fridge overnight. If you do, bring them to room temperature and let rise about an hour before cooking. Otherwise, loosely cover the muffin tins with plastic and let them rise at room temperature until slightly puffy, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Set the muffin tin on a baking sheet to catch drips during baking. Put the kouign-amann in the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through baking. They are done when the tops are deep golden and the tips look like they're about to burn.
Remove the kouign-amann from the oven and let them cool about 5 minutes (just until they're ready to handle or they'll be difficult to take from the pan.) Using a knife and/or spoon, take the pastries out of the muffin cups onto a cooling rack. Serve when cool enough to eat. We actually like them better the day after they're made.
Can you describe New Orleans in a word or two? It’s impossible. The city has more identities, more nicknames than any other place….The Big Easy, Crescent City, The City That Care Forgot. NOLA, N’Awlins. Say, “Throw me something, mister” or “Laissez les bons temps rouler” and we immediately know what you’re talking about.
The city’s not normal…statistically-speaking, I mean.
New Orleans gives us Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street, jazz, beignets and riverboats. It’s voodoo, the Caribbean, France and Spain. But it’s also Southern hospitality, magnolias and Carnival balls. It’s the seediest and the most genteel. The smelliest and the sweetest.
A complicated, complex city, it offers a 4-D, 5 sense experience at both ends of the bell curve. The drinks start earlier and the bands play later. The porches are deeper, air softer, seafood fresher and the history richer than anywhere else. (Yeah, Boston, I’ll stand by that statement.) Even their hurricanes -both drinks and weather- are epic. It’s a city of extremes.
To me, the epicenter of New Orleans runs from the Garden District up to River Bend. It’s the rattle of the street car, white-columned mansions on St. Charles, and broken sidewalks. It’s live oaks, Rex flags and overgrown vines -mysterious and beautiful, the whole place a little old, rundown and in need of a coat of paint.
And it always comes back to the food. As Jessalyn says when we visit, “Let’s layer in more meals.” Which is the perfect reason to stop by Camellia Grill! Enjoy an old-fashioned grilled burger or omelette, maybe a chocolate freeze, but absolutely, definitely order a slice of warm pecan pie a la mode.
Wednesday evening we got the last three seats at the counter and sat down. “G’me some love,” the waiter grinned and put his hand over the counter for a fist bump.
We looked at each in surprise, realizing it was part performance, part schtick, part tradition and said with an undertone of fake-ness, But the waiter also welcomed us with genuine good humor, honesty… and he made us smile. Just like New Orleans.
Camellia Grill’s pecan pie has been our “go to” recipe for Thanksgiving and Christmas since we found it in Southern Living decades ago. Here Lizzy updated the pie and added chocolate. Of course, it’s best served just like at Camellia Grill- warm with a scoop of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla on top:
If you’ve spent any time in New Orleans, you’ve probably enjoyed that olive spread, salami and melted cheese sandwich –the muffaletta. Central Grocery created muffalettas in 1906 and more than 100 years later still sells its masterpiece on Decatur Street. Personally, I’d bypass their storefront and head four blocks away to Napoleon House. I have no idea whether their muffalettas are better than Central Grocery’s, but I guarantee the atmosphere is.
The building at 500 Chartres (You know to pronounce it “charters,” don’t you?) was built in 1797. I don’t believe it’s been repainted since then.
Wonder why it’s called Napoleon House? The famous French emperor was supposed to live in exile there. Even though he never made it, the name has stuck till today.
After you enter the restaurant, do what my friends and I do: Find a table by the window, then order a muffaletta and your beverage of choice.
At this point, important, significant things begin to happen. You’ll discuss all your friends’ troubles and miraculously fix them. (Please note this works best when the friends you discuss aren’t actually with you at Napoleon House.) You’ll relive old times, analyze the weird couple across the room and -right there at your table- solve all the world’s problems. Before you know it, 3 or 4 hours will have passed and you’ll have a more crucial decision to make: Where should we go for dinner tonight?
Good news! You can’t go wrong with your choice in New Orleans. And fortunately, you only had a sandwich for lunch.
2 cups kalamata olives, pitted (fresh or jarred, not canned)
2 cups pimento-filled green olives (fresh or jarred, not canned)
1 cup roasted red peppers (fresh or jarred)
2 cups pickled Italian vegetables (giardiniera)
16 pepperoncini, stemmed and seeded
4 tablespoons capers
12 cloves garlic
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 generous pinches crushed red peppers
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sandwich fixins' (See Notes Below):
1 pound provolone, thinly sliced
1 pound mozzarella, thinly sliced
1 pound Genoa salami, thinly sliced
1 pound mortadella, sliced
1 pound prosciutto or capocollo, sliced
12 ciabatta rolls or 2 loaves hearty country bread, sliced (enough for 12 large sandwiches)
Olive Spread (Prepared in halves to fit in the processor):
In the large bowl of a food processor, put in half the garlic cloves and process until minced. Add half the remaining vegetables (olives, pickled vegetables, pepperoncini, capers and celery) to bowl and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add half the oregano, pepper, vinegar and olive oil and pulse until just mixed. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl or container with a tight lid.
Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients.
Refrigerate the spread for at least one hour or up to 3 days before using.
Assembly (To save time, assemble the sandwiches on a cookie sheet):
If using rolls, cut them horizontally.
Place the bread on a flat surface. Spoon a scant ¼ cup olive mixture on each slice of bread and spread evenly. Place provolone on bottom slice of bread, then cover with slices of salami, mortadella and prosciutto . On the top slice of bread, cover the olive mixture with slices of mozzarella. Carefully close the sandwich.
Wrap the sandwiches and let stand at room temperature for up to 3 hours.
Heat in 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the meats warmed.
The original muffaletta calls for these typically Italian meats and cheese, but you can substitute any deli meats and cheeses you'd like, i.e. turkey, good bologna, Swiss, etc.