Current Sydney weather not permitting, I love that we are in picnic season - a time when families and friends unfurl picnic blankets onto expanses of green grass and from their baskets, bags and backpacks, reveal the goodies that they've cooked up in the kitchen. One of my favourite things to make is the Muffuletta. I've made variations on this stuffed cob loaf many a time for picnics, even sans cob, with a hollowed out Baguette although that is probably a sacrilege. The part I like best about it speaks to the lazy part of me that enjoys waking up late on weekends. You can do this ahead of time and all you have to do on a weekend morning is take it out of the fridge and chuck it in the oven for 30 minutes while getting ready (although I suppose some people take longer to get ready than 30 minutes!). No faffing about or cutting or dicing a salad (or god forbid, kneading or mixing) in the morning. Set the alarm to 11am and roll out of bed, cook it for 30 minutes while getting dressed and off to the lunchtime picnic you'll go.
Buying the vegetables pre made at the deli or supermarket will save you a significant amount of time. All you need to do then is buy everything, unscrew the lids and layer and pack it tight the night before. However if you're a troublemaker like me (literally like making trouble and work for myself, yes it is a sickness), the following recipe is for you too.
Torn sun dried tomatoes
I believe the origin of this is Italian from what I've read and the list of ingredients does suggest so. Originally you were to use a Muffuletta loaf of bread, however having never seen one here I did with the cob roll instead. New Orleans is another place which seems to take their Muffeletta seriously and they have their own version of this which I shant even try to mess with (the olive mix is apparently the key to theirs). I shall stick my neck out here and say that you could certainly add a range of fillings to this, within reason, and it would still be delicious, even if it's not completely authentic. The crunch of the freshly rebaked bread and the lusciousness of the filling will have everyone holding their hand out for a second slice (or a third).
Grilled zucchini layer
I often make double of the eggplant dip as it's so good and because it's so healthy you get the urge to eat more than you normally would. This is for a more modest amount (about a cup or so) although feel free to double it if you're a fan of a luscious dip. It is strong on the breath for the rest of the day (the raw onion and garlic do that) so do your kissing beforehand. Or use it as an excuse to stop kissing people hello if you're uncomfortable with it and are trapped in a Seinfeld moment.
Layering the sweet potato
Picnic stuffed cob loaf (vegetarian version)
An original recipe by Not Quite Nigella
1 large cob loaf
1 large eggplant sliced thinly lengthways (or a jar of this bought from supermarket) plus oil for grilling
250g Eggplant dip (see recipe below if you wish to make this yourself)
1 large zucchini sliced thinly lengthways (or a jar of this bought from supermarket) plus oil for grilling
1 sweet potato sliced thinly lengthways, steamed
100g sun dried tomatoes
50g cheese thinly sliced
100g stuffed olives
300g Mushrooms sauteed in butter, oil with garlic
((To make a meat version, you could stuff it with mortadella, salami, olives and a provolone))
Step 1 - Set grill on hot and grill eggplant and zucchini.
Step 2 - Cut off top 1/4 of the cob loaf and take out the soft filling to the loaf. Set aside (you can use this for the eggplant dip which requires fresh breadcumbs). Spread a layer of eggplant dip on the bottom.
Step 3 - Continue layering with other ingredients until the whole cob is stuffed to the very top with filling. Roll out two long rectangles of cling wrap and place them in a cross shape. Wrap the Muffeletta up snugly and add another sheet of cling wrap if you need it. Place on a plate and then weight down in your fridge overnight (with other heavy containers or a can if you need to).
Layering with sun dried tomatoes
Step 4 - The next day set your oven to 180C. Place foil wrapped muffeletta in oven and bake for 30 minutes until crusty and golden on top. Slice into colourful wedges.
Low fat eggplant dip
1 large eggplant
2 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I got 2 cups worth from the above hollowed out cob loaf)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
Step 1 - Heat oven to 190c and place a sheet of foil on a baking tray. using a sharp knife, puncture two slits into the eggplant and then place the whole eggplant on the tray and bake it for 1 hour.
Step 2 - Remove fro oven and allow to cool enough to handle. remove the skin and scoop out the soft flesh. Drain it in a fine sieve to remove the excess water pressing down with a spoon to get all of the water out.
Step 3 - In a food processor blitz the garlic and onion until finely chopped. Then add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.