Madi Gras is fast approaching, and even if you don’t live in a place that has a big Mardi Gras celebration, I have always thought it is a fabulous excuse for a party. We’ve made it through the crazy, busy holidays and had some January downtime. And I don’t mean some sort of wild bacchanalian revel. Just a cozy dinner with friends, full of amazing Louisiana cooking like Shrimp Creole or Debris Po’boys. It’s a great occasion to host a Sunday brunch, or an actual Mardi Gras Tuesday night supper. But whatever you do, go all out – find some cheap beads to decorate, wear purple, green and gold and make all your food New Orleans perfect (you can search my Mardi Gras archive here). Order a king cake or make some snazzy king cake bars for dessert. And start with this fun, flavorful cheese ball inspired by the classic muffaletta sandwich. Its packed with the elements of olive salad, salami and cheese and is perfect for a crowd served with crackers, or more authentic baguette slices.
To be honest, these are ingredients I don’t keep on hand much, I don’t like having half a jar of olives or peppers lingering in the fridge, so I start at the deli department for this recipe. I buy a mix of olives from the olive bar, just not ones with much marinade or spice and rinse them and pat dry before chopping. Same with the pepperoncini, a couple of whole ones if that’s all they have. Ask the deli counter to cut you a chunk of provolone which makes for easier grating and ask them to cut you just a few thin slices of salami.
Muffaletta Cheese Ball
4 ounces mixed green and black pitted olives
2 ounces sliced pepperoncini from a jar
1 (2-ounce) jar diced pimentos
4 large slices hard salami
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup grated provolone cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
Put the olives in the bowl of a small food processor and pulse to chop very fine, but do not puree. Scrape into a bowl. Do the same to the pepperoncini and add to the bowl. Drain the pimentos and add to the bowl. Rinse and dry the processor. Cut the salami into small pieces, then pulse to finely chop it, again, don’t make a paste, then add it to the bowl. Sit everything to combine and evenly distribute, using a fork if you need to.
Put the softened cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer and beat to lighten and loosen it up. Add the grated provolone, the Italian seasoning and salt and beat to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add the muffaletta mix and beat to combine, scraping the bowl. Lay a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Scrape the cheese in the bowl into a rough ball and transfer it to the plastic wrap. Pull the plastic wrap around the cheese and twist into a tight ball. Place the wrapped ball in a bowl (to help keep the bottom from flattening to much) and refrigerate for 8 hours, or up to three days.
When ready to serve, unwrap the ball and transfer to a platter. Serve with baguette toasts and crackers.