Muffaletta: The Ultimate Hiking Sandwich

What to pack for lunch on a day hike? It can be a dilemma. Granola bars are boring, as are bagels and cream cheese; PBJs turn into an unsightly mush; fruit bruises. GORP’s a great snack but doesn’t cut it for a midday meal. What to do?

In 1906, Salvatore Lupo, an Italian immigrant and deli owner living in New Orleans invented the world’s best hiking sandwich. I think it’s safe to say he didn’t know it. At the time he wasn’t serving day hikers, he was selling his unique sandwiches to hungry workers in his neighborhood who craved a hearty lunch heavy on savory Mediterranean flavors. He called his genius invention Muffaletta after the kind of Sicilian bread he used to make it.

Muffaletta from Central Grocery in New Orleans
New Orleans is the home of this great deli sandwich.

So what is a muffaletta exactly? It’s a sandwich made from a round loaf of bread, the middle of which has been scooped out to make room for layers upon layers of meat, cheese, veggies, olives and other yumminess. Basically, it’s a sub sandwich that’s completely enclosed in a bread shell. After you build the inside, you replace the top, wrap it in plastic, squish it, and refrigerate it overnight. On the morning of your hike, just toss it into your daypack – along with a serrated knife for cutting – and you’ve got a lunch that would make Sal proud.

Because it’s dense and pre-squished, a muffaletta easily holds up to the confines of a backpack and several hours on the trail. One thing a muffaleta is not however is light. If you’re a hiking weight weenie, this isn’t the sandwich for you. I don’t mind the couple extra pounds though; when I find my perfect lunch location and cut that first beautiful wedge it’s all worth it.

Here are the deets. For an authentic muffaletta, check out this video recipe from Food Network, which looks delish. Because I’m too lazy to chop all those ingredients, I make a variation that goes something like this:

Karin’s Easy Muffaletta (serves about 6)

  • One sheepherders bread, top cut off and insides hollowed out.
  • Generously schmeer pesto all around the interior of bread and on the top.
  • Visit the Mediterranean Bar at the grocery store and stock up on your favorite items – just put them all in one container. I like whole roasted garlic cloves, pitted kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, and artichokes hearts.
  • Visit the deli and pick up a quarter pound each of thinly sliced meats and cheeses such as salami, roast beef, provolone and swiss.
  • Thinly sliced veggies such as sweet onion and tomatoes.
  • Balsamic vinegar.

To assemble, layer meats and cheeses. Place your Med bar items and sliced veggies in the center, adding layers of meat and cheese throughout. Using a sharp knife pierce all layers, but not the bread shell and pour a little balsamic vinegar over the whole shebang. Replace top and stuff into the bread’s original bag. Press down firmly on sandwich to eliminate air pockets and help the flavors blend. Secure with a twisty tie. Refrigerate until the morning of your hike. As Sal might have said – felicissime escursioni e buon appetito!

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