A wonderfully savory and flavorful vegetarian muffuletta sandwich awaits.
Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. Day of festivity, masquerade, debauchery. Last-ditch, all-out effort at fun until Easter. Un-Valentine’s Day for singles.
I’ll be honest. None of this really speaks to me.
I prefer to celebrate Mardi Gratzer — Mardi Gras’ slightly more neurotic, less fun-loving, homebody cousin, derived from my maiden name. Mardi Gratzer takes a lot of the pressure off a winter Tuesday in suburban NJ, a grey snow day with kids piled on the couch with their too much screen time and their CAN I PAINT and all of us still wearing matching Christmas pajamas at noon.
Am I alone this fat Tuesday in preferring less fun, but with really good sandwiches? Somehow I doubt it. So here are a few pointers for celebrating a successful Mardi Gratzer.
Five Tips for a Successful Mardi Gratzer
- Spend some time looking at your neck in the mirror. Why does it suddenly look like that? Are you slightly dehydrated? Is that medically significant? Has some secret age threshold triggered a further downward progression of all your bodyfat, leaving the twitchy neck to freeze in the elements while the fat settles all too comfortably on the hips? Is that a swollen lymph node? You know what? It’s probably nothing.
- Drink water by the Klean Kanteen-full. Don’t hold back. There’s not enough water in the world to counteract the dehydrating effects of the longish flight back from Nicaragua five days ago and the sub-freezing NJ air. Wonder whether it’s possible for your lips to shrivel completely into your face and disappear, or whether that trend will derail before its ultimate end. Think about how things are chapped that should not be chapped. Do some quick research to see whether there’s a chaps reference that could work here. Realize you cannot un-Google “Mardi Gras Assless Chaps.” You just can’t.
- Think about registering the kids for swimming lessons. Gratzer, you’ve been thinking about doing this for six months now. How many times have you driven past the Y this week alone? Wasn’t 2015 supposed to be the year of Getting Things Done? Let me tell you something: if you never amount to anything more than you already have, it won’t be because of the neck.
- Get up to stretch and walk around. Discover and wipe up an almost physically impossible amount of paint spill. Discuss how saying I won’t get any paint on the counter is not really the same as not getting any paint on the counter. Even while you’re still talking, realize how often you’re just going through the parenting motions, saying what’s supposed to be right in case in sticks. A little paint on the counter? Who cares. When you decided on marble you knew it would look lived-in before too long. That’s the kind of kitchen you wanted to have. The kind of person you wanted to be. Swipe a bite of roasted salmon on your way past the stove. Maybe another, or, you know what, two more.
- Debate whether to tell people that we actually ate this sandwich yesterday. Do you know what? Full disclosure. We ate this sandwich yesterday. That’s a little sacrifice I made so that you could eat it today. It was worth it. Try it! And I hope you have a wonderful Mardi Gratzer. Though if you prefer to celebrate Mardi Gras, this sandwich will work for that, too.
Whatever you call today, I hope you enjoy it. See you next week.
For Mardi Gras, party gras or just any day gras, this super-savory vegetarian sandwich is a real crowd pleaser. You can prepare it up to 12 hours in advance, and the flavors will only improve. To make it vegan, simply skip the cheese and use vegan pesto and tapenade.
- 2 small japanese eggplants OR 1 medium regular eggplant
- Cooking spray
- Fine sea salt
- 3 large portobello mushroom caps
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 sourdough boule
- 1/2 cup olive tapenade (jarred is fine)
- 1/2 cup pesto (jarred or homemade)
- 2 roasted red peppers from a jar, sliced open into a single layer and gently patted dry
- 5 slices provolone cheese
Preheat the oven to 450° F with two racks close to the middle.
Slice the eggplants 1/4-inch thick. Spray a baking sheet generously with cooking spray and arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer. Spray tops of slices with cooking spray, sprinkle generously with salt, and place in preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the slices at the halfway point.
While the eggplant begins to bake, prepare the portobellos. Remove stems and, using a small spoon, scrape the gills off the underside of the mushroom caps. Slice caps 1/4-inch thick. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, smoked paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. On a second baking sheet, toss the portobello slices with the dressing. Arrange in a single layer and add to oven. Bake for 20 minutes.
Cut across the beltline of the boule and remove the top half. Use your hands to tear most of the soft insides out of both halves of the bread, leaving about 1/2 inch barrier before the crust. (Tear the soft parts into small chunks and freeze for use later as fresh breadcrumbs -- just give them a whirl in the food processor when you need them.) Spread the olive tapenade inside the bottom half of the bread and the pesto inside the top half.
Arrange the portobello pieces in a compact layer on the bottom of the bread. Layer on the roasted peppers, eggplant, and cheese. Replace the top half of the bread and press down firmly a few times to make it nice and compact. Wrap and store for up to 12 hours if desired, then slice into wedges and serve.