Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Monstruous Meat Mania - mmm

The Mighty Muffuletta. Woah there. Slow down. Backtrack a little. Some of you (Brits) maybe instantly thrown upon hearing this foreign, and faintly rude-sounding term. ‘What can she be talking about?’ I hear you cry. Well, fear not. It is my mission to educate you. It’s not a celebrity, it’s not a band, it is, in fact, a sandwich (although by the end of this piece, you'll be forgiven for assuming otherwise). But this is no ordinary sandwich, this is the King of sandwiches. I am a fully fledged member of the fan club, a bona fide member of the Muffuletta mafia. I first learnt of The King when, on my plane from Mexico to Boston, I picked up the in-flight magazine and read the finest piece of food writing I’ve ever clapped eyes upon. This was three whole pages dedicated to full-blown, unapologetic nosh-centric nostalgia: one woman’s life-long obsession with a sandwich which hails from hungry Sicilian farmers in New Orleans.

I’m always keen for a good bit of food porn, but this was obscene! This had me drooling in my plane seat (much to my neighbour’s alarm). I wanted one. I wanted one now, and the plastic-wrapped anaemic plane fare just didn’t cut it. Sadly there was no other choice, and I had to snap myself out of my wistful reveries of floating sandwiches, garlicky salami, a parade of cheesy characters, and a cascade of olive salad. I resolved one day to experience first hand the object of this wonderful writer’s obsession.

Fast forward a couple of months, and I was soon to experience the real deal – no impersonations for me! This was Monster Meat Mania in Mornington Crescent. It was a weekend was crammed full of food odyssies, from Marmite tasting, to Muffuletta with Malcolm Monteiro (I know, I know, I couldn’t have asked for more perfect alliteration, but honestly it wasn’t planned!). My dear friend Malcs - undoubtedly feeling pity for me jangling around a great big house all on my lonesome in Surrey, away from civilisation and elbow deep in job applications - sent me the newsletter from EatDrinkTalk, a marvellous cook school in London, run by UrbanJunkies contributor and chef, Jennifer. A quick scan down the list of recipes and I instantly clocked the Muffuletta. Amused of the coincidence, I told Malcolm about the aforementioned ode to sandwichdom. Ever the host, he invited me up to London for a Sunday sarnie-fest. I was hungry already (which really was just as well, I warn all makers now that you really need to have prepped your stomach for the onslaught of sheer protein power – forgo breakfast, as well as all of the previous day’s meals).

I’m not sure if I’ve ever travelled 2.5 hours (hideous Sunday traffic, and a poor little car heaving three grown women up the motorway) purely to eat a sandwich. First time for everything. Of course, I wouldn’t just travel miles and miles for a few bits of meat and bread, I was looking forward to seeing my dear friend Malcolm as well… Freezing cold, I entered the fug of his little one-bedroom den in great anticipation, only just managing to stop myself licking my lips and salivating onto his lovely sofa set. Quite the closet foodie, he had already risen admirably to the challenge of assembling the ingredients – obscene, and I really do mean OBSCENE, quantities of meat (salami, parma ham, cooked ham) per head, mozzarella, provolone, ciabatta and various bits and bobs for the olive salad. We rolled up our sleeves, divvied up the tasks, and got going.

The below recipe is taken from Jennifer from EDT’s newsletter:

The key to a good muffuletta is to combine a mix of cooked ham, cured ham and salami. If you have the willpower to wait 2-3 hours after making your sandwich while it is 'pressed' under something heavy, you'll be rewarded with a slightly better flavour as the pressing helps the olive salad permeate the bread and surrounding layers. Lesser-mortals however, can eat it straightaway.

Makes 2 ENORMOUS sandwiches

1 large ciabatta or other Italian round white loaf, sliced in half widthwise and lengthwise to make 2 sandwich tops and bottoms
150 grams porchetta or other cooked Italian charcuterie like prosciutto cotto
150 grams prosciutto or other cured Italian ham like lonza or speck
150 grams salami
1 ball of buffalo mozzarella, drained and patted dry with kitchen roll
several slices of provolone cheese

Olive Salad
1/4 head of cauliflower
150 grams juicy green olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
200 mls extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, minced
small handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp of chile flakes, or more to taste
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper


To make the olive salad, trim the cauliflower into fine florets (they should be very small) and place them in a pot of salted, boiling water for 5 minutes or until tender but still crisp. Drain the cauliflower and place in a small mixing bowl with the olives.

Mix together the remaining salad ingredients and pour them over the cauliflower-olive mixture while the cauliflower is still warm. Season generously with salt and pepper and toss well to coat the salad in the mixture. Set aside at room temperature.

Using your hands, hollow out the insides of each bread half. Brush the insides of the top halves with some of the oil from the olive salad and fill the bottom half with the olive salad. Lay the meat and cheese one variety at a time over the olive salad so that it forms layers and cover with the top half of the bread.

If eating right away, press down firmly on the sandwich to help it keep its shape and then slice each sandwich in half. If eating later, wrap each sandwich tightly in cling film and press down firmly. Place the sandwiches on a baking tray or roasting dish and cover with heavy books or other objects to act as weights.

Place the sandwiches in the fridge under the weights and chill until ready to eat. The pressing will help the olive salad to permeate the bread and the sandwich layers.

To serve, remove the cling film and cut each sandwich into halves.

Note the lesser mortals comment. Malcs and I fall firmly into that category. By the time we had made up the sandwiches it was 3pm and we were both ravenous post-Saturday night outs. I think we managed to restrain ourselves for a full 45 minutes, before doing some jaw stretches, and getting our chops around the monstrosity that was the Muffuletta.

It was well worth the wait, and the effort, although I’m not sure if I will be cruel enough to put my poor tum through that sort of digestive effort again. The ciabatta - at once crispy, and with what little dough was left soaked in the tangy lemon-garlic juices of the crunchy, flavoursome olive/cauliflower salad - was the perfect bodyguard for the sought after celebrity protein tucked (or should I say crammed) inside. Garlic was undeniably one of the biggest players throughout, pungent, spicy and raw in the olive salad, mellower but just as boisterous in the thin, meaty salami slices. A chewy, flavoursome duo of cooked and smoked hams jostled their way in, desperate for a bit of the glory. The more delicate cheeses – Lady Mozzarella and wafer thin Provolone – minced and pouted in the background, serving as the girly relief to the testosterone-filled meat. Nevertheless they made their presence known, salty and tender. All in all it was quite a spectacular, star-studded show. Well worth the eager anticipation, and almost worth hanging around afterwards for an autograph. Except, post show, and after leaving some time for moans, groans, and belly rubs, I callously left the stars to do their thing – all that attention was going to their heads. Instead I wafted strong garlic fumes onto the tube and the train home to Surrey. Pity my poor fellow passengers.

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