A million years ago, a fresh faced 20-something and a curly headed 30-something walked into an Italian grocery in the heart of New Orleans and ordered a muffaletta. Hand in hand, those two love birds shared a wheel of Italian delight stuffed with salty, rich cured meats and cheeses and oozing with a briny olive salad. Even though the fresh faced 20-something was doing her best to remain attractive in the eyes of her new partner, she feasted upon the sandwich with her elbows firmly planted on the table, with the briny juice of pickled salad running down her forearms. She stuffed herself with the unearthly goodness of that enormous sandwich and her 30-something, curly headed boyfriend just looked at her and smiled.
It has been a lifetime since that trip to New Orleans, since my husband introduced me to the deliciousness of a well prepared Italian sandwich. In the years between then and now, I have enjoyed so many different combinations of cured meat and pickled veg on some kind of crusty bread, each one a triumph of culinary ingenuity with its own special mix of ingredients.
It’s a long way to a decent Italian deli from here, and I have taken up the challenge so many times of fulfilling my craving for that salty goodness. A good sandwich should be shared, so make sure that you make enough for everyone. And don’t worry about leftovers, the best sandwiches only get better with a little age.
The key to this yummy sandwich is the pickled veggie salad. It’s a quick pickle and you can change up the veggies according to what you have on hand. Throw some olives in there, maybe some capers, a chopped cucumber would be pretty nice. It’ll keep in the fridge for…a while. Probably about 4-5 days. So you could make this sandwich over and over and over.
Italian Party Panini
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 small red onion thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 4 ciabatta rolls or 1 crusty baguette
- 8 large slices hard salami
- 8 slices of deli ham
- 8 slices deli smoked turkey
- 8 slices provolone cheese
- 4 slices fresh mozzarella or deli sliced if you can’t find fresh
- 6 pepperoncinis sliced
- 1 large roasted bell pepper jarred
- In a medium bowl, mix together the first 10 ingredients (through the salt and pepper). Set aside for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Halve the bread lengthwise and layer the meats and cheeses on the bottom slice. Top with the pepperoncini and the roasted pepper. Drain the pickled veggies, reserving the liquid, and top each sandwich with a spoonful of the veggies. Put the top of the sandwich on and tightly wrap each sandwich with foil. Place in the oven for 10 minutes or until the sandwich is hot. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, and while pressing down firmly, brown each sandwich on both sides. Slice on the diagonal and serve with the reserved vinaigrette on the side for dipping.