Photo by Faith Willinger
La Madia is my favorite restaurant in Sicily, located in the village of Lictata, on the southern coast. Chef-owner Pino Cuttaia works with the best fish and seafood from local waters, vegetables from his father-in-law's garden, amazing Sicilian ingredients like sheep's milk ricotta, wild fennel greens, squash tendrils, citrus fruits, pistachio nuts, and extra virgin made with native cultivars.
Every time I'd visit I was fascinated by a sign at a sandwich shop across the street, in the shape of a waitress wearing an apron with a heart-shaped pocket, proffering a tray of what looks like fast food: a hot dog, bag of fries, piece of pizza, and canned beverage. The menu on the sign included muffoletti, which I knew from the Central Grocery (where they were called muffuletta) in New Orleans. Had I found the sandwich's Sicilian origins?
I wanted to try one but ruining my appetite before a meal at La Madia was out of the question and the shop was always closed when I visited. So Pino and his wife Loredana decided to make perfect muffoletti for me and a group of food-lovers. He explained that they were round, flat whole wheat, black-pepper and anise seed rolls, used for a sandwich that was a favorite snack for kids at school. They are filled with sausage and greens, or tuna and hard-boiled eggs--not exactly like the New Orleans version, which has many more ingredients. The woman at the shop where he purchased his sandwich was always smashing more oil into the tuna in the can, which meant less tuna and more oil, and a greater profit.