Accompanied by a homemade spread of marinated olives, artichokes, red wine vinegar, and spices, this Pressed Muffuletta Sandwich for a Crowd is the perfect lunch to share with friends at a beach day picnic. Along with some helpful tips and menu ideas to make the most out of your day in the sun and sand, you’ll be sure to enjoy this elevated take on the typical Italian deli sandwich.
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My husband’s birthday is the first week of August, so it’s no surprise that more than one of his parties have been spent at the beach. A few years back, we met a whole host of friends for a lovely day of beach picnicking, and since it was a birthday party, I wanted to provide a main course of some kind. Daydreaming about New Orleans and knowing my usual Italian sandwiches travel pretty well, I opted for a muffuletta-style sandwich with homemade olive spread. It may not be completely traditional, but it was a tremendous success, especially with Sam. This giant Pressed Muffuletta Sandwich for a Crowd has since become my go-to recipe whenever I need to make something that can stack up in a cooler and feed a large group of people – be it at the beach or any other kind of picnic.
Tips & Tricks for a Brilliant Beach Picnic
Alright, so full disclosure: I personally feel like there are two ways to do a beach day right. Either I want to 1) bring as few things as possible, lay about for a few hours, and then enjoy cocktails and snacks at a boardwalk bar; or 2) bring way too much stuff, stake out a huge piece of territory, and set up a beachfront oasis to camp out in all day with as many friends as I can find. I’m all for extremes, I guess.
What am I saying though? For the first option I still usually pack too many snacks and supplies to make at least three cocktails to share. I’m a little insane.
But to the point: planning a beach picnic for a small crowd can be a lot of fun and just takes a little bit of planning. Most importantly, make sure you can carry everything to your chosen spot in one go or can enlist help from others – no one wants to make two trips once you hit the sand!
What you need to make a Beach Oasis:
- A large, thick cotton blanket. Pick a picnic blanket made of a thick, soft material that can take a beating and be washed again and again as needed. I use a 100% cotton throw I got from Target that is very similar to this one. This will act as your centralizing location for food and communal supplies, claiming a large amount of beach real estate that your friends can circle around with their own chairs and towels. It also doubles as a great place to lie down flat in the sun, or a comfy place for those friends who forgot their chairs or towels to sit on.
- A trusty cooler (or two). I like to have one for drinks and bottles of water and one for food and snacks. Remember, bottles of frozen water make great ice packs, and then double as hydration later in the day.
- Folding chairs. Ones you can sling on your back are the best! Sam and I use a type of folding camping chair that we set up on the beach blanket, but beach chairs might be better if you like to recline out – just make sure you find one you can carry easily.
- A tiny folding table. Okay, this isn’t technically an essential item, but we’ve had one of these awesome tables in a bag from Crate and Barrel for so long that at this point, I can’t imagine a beach picnic without it. It even doubles as a way to extend the life of the ice in your coolers: Set it up in the center of the blanket, drape it with towels, and slide your coolers underneath to keep them out of the sun!
- Your favorite reusable mug or cup with a lid. It seems self-explanatory, but having your own cup with a lid (in addition to a water bottle) is the best on the beach, but I usually have to remind people to bring one. It keeps out bugs and debris, doesn’t get kicked over or spilled in the sand as easily, and makes it much more convenient to share cans of soda or large batch drinks with one another.
- Miscellaneous serving supplies. While I have the habit to pack everything but the kitchen sink when I go out, you can certainly just keep to a few essentials. A bag for trash, necessary plasticware, disposable cups & plates, Ziploc bags for left over food, and paper towels are all good to have on hand for whatever comes up. A sharp picnic knife lives in my cooler in case it’s needed to cut up cured meats, cheeses, or a loaf of bread for an impromptu charcuterie platter. Oh, and remember: Many beaches don’t allow glass containers, so plan accordingly!
Your Perfect Beach Picnic Menu
There are a lot of foods that are perfect for sharing with friends at the beach. Whether you are providing the main meal or just bringing a dish to contribute, here are a few delicious options to consider:
- No Utensils Required:
- Savory and sweet hand pies and filled pastries, like my recipe for savory Mini Mixed Mushroom & Gruyere Picnic Pies.
- Pre-cooked bone-in chicken drumsticks and wings served cold, like a delicious cornmeal-crusted oven-fried chicken (I’m partial to Kristin Donnelly’s recipe in Modern Potluck, but this recipe looks very similar).
- Sandwiches on hearty bread so that they survive the trip, like the Pressed Muffuletta Sandwich for a Crowd below or another picnic staple of mine, Martha Stewart’s Turkey Sandwich with Cherry Compote.
- Simple baked desserts, like pre-cut brownies and cookies (Salted Chocolate Chunk Bourbon Cookies, perhaps?) are always welcome at any picnic.
- Dishes to Serve and Share:
- Cold pasta and noodle dishes full of veggies that can survive in the cooler, like the tofu version of this Sesame Cashew Noodle Salad Bowl or a super seasonal Fresh Corn Pasta Salad make great side dishes.
- Large batch punches, sangrias, cocktails, or mocktails are a must! I personally recommend my Large Batch Whiskey Sours or Rendezvous Rum Punch if your plans include liquor. I’m also loving the look of this Mai Tai Mocktail Party Punch (just add the seltzer to individual glasses surfside!).
- And of course, pack lots of bottles of water and any store-bought snacks you crave. I usually bring some granola bars, grapes, and maybe some chips and salsa to munch on as the day goes by.
[A quick note on food safety: It is up to you to use your own best judgement when choosing what foods to travel with in coolers. What works for me may not work for you, so please do your own research and consume foods that may be left out at higher temperatures at your own discretion.]
Pressed Muffuletta Sandwich for a Crowd
Now, about this Pressed Muffuletta Sandwich:
If you aren’t already familiar with the joy of a traditional muffuletta sandwich, you might just think it seems like a fancy Italian sub. You wouldn’t be far off.
Originating among Italian immigrants to New Orleans, muffuletta sandwiches get their name from their signature bread, a type of round Sicilian sesame loaf. They date back to 1906, and traditionally consist of a muffuletta loaf, marinated olive salad spread, and layers of mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone.
While it’s hard to improve on the original, you should feel free to use my adapted recipe below as a template and customize to the preferences of your audience. In this muffuletta sandwich, I substitute ciabatta bread for the much harder to find muffuletta loaf, and hot soppressata and prosciutto for mortadella (which I just never grew a taste for).
As long as you have about half a pound of at least two kinds of cheeses and about two and half pounds of Italian deli meat, you’ll be all set. I do recommend sticking with a style of ham and some kind of hard cured meat in the mix to give the right texture and flavor balance though.
Homemade Olive Salad Spread
The recipe for Homemade Olive Salad Spread will make about two cups, even though the sandwich recipe calls for only one. This way you can easily make extra sandwiches with any leftover deli meats, or make a second loaf if you need even more portions for your beach picnic. Either way, the spread will keep for one to two weeks in the fridge and is great for all sorts of sandwiches.
The key to a good olive salad spread is to make sure the olives, artichokes, and roasted red pepper are diced, but not pureed in the finished product. There are two ways to do this: you can either dice the ingredients by hand, which ensures a beautiful salad with the right texture; OR you can very carefully use a food processor or blender on pulse mode to do the job for you. The first method honestly tastes and looks the best, but the second is much easier and less time consuming. In my personal opinion, the difference is negligible once you put it all on a sandwich, so I usually use the blender. You may end up with more of a puree than you’d like the first time you try this, but don’t despair – the flavors will still be delicious!
This Pressed Muffuletta Sandwich for a Crowd has become a staple in my household, highly requested and well-loved for all sorts of outings. I’m so happy to finally be sharing it with you, and I hope you and yours enjoy the end result just as much on your next picnic or beach trip.
Pressed Muffuletta Sandwich for a Crowd
- 1 large loaf of fresh ciabatta bread (or traditional muffuletta bread, if you can find it!)
- ¼ lb mozzarella cheese
- ¼ lb provolone cheese
- ½ lb Virginia ham
- 4 oz salami
- 3 oz hot soppressata
- 4 oz prosciutto
- 1 cup homemade olive salad spread (plus more as desired)
Homemade Olive Salad Spread (Makes about 2 cups)
- 2 cups marinated olives, pitted (I like to use a mix of green and Kalamata)
- 1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained
- ½ cup red roasted peppers
- ½ cup chopped celery (about 2 stalks)
- ¼ cup fresh parsley
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ - ½ cup olive oil, as needed
Making the Olive Salad Spread
- The key to a good olive salad spread is to make sure the olives, artichokes, and red pepper are diced, but not pureed in the finished product. There are two ways to achieve this:
- For a more refined olive salad spread, finely dice the olives, artichokes, roasted red pepper, celery and parsley by hand and combine with the other ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Start by adding a fourth cup of olive oil, and add more if the mixture seems dry. Let the olive salad spread sit for at least 2 hours to overnight in a sealed container in the fridge so that the flavors mingle.
- If you wish to save time or don't feel like practicing your knife work, you can make a more rustic (i.e. less pretty) spread using a blender or food processor on pulse mode. For this method, roughly chop the artichoke hearts and roasted red pepper into one-inch size pieces. Dice the celery into quarter-inch pieces. Put the whole, pitted olives into the blender and pulse once or twice to chop them up a bit. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the olive oil, and pulse in very short intervals until everything is chunky, but not pureed. Transfer to a bowl, and stir in the fourth cup olive oil. Add more if the mixture seems too dry. If there are some larger pieces of olive or artichoke still in the mix, you can throw them back into the blender for another pulse, or chop them up by hand and add them back into the mix. Let sit two hours to overnight in the fridge as above before using on your sandwiches.
Assembling the Sandwich
- With a large bread knife, carefully slice your loaf of bread horizontally, separating the top from the bottom. Smear the homemade olive salad spread on the inside of each half in a thin layer so that everything is covered, leaving about half an inch clear at the edges of the bread. I recommend using a slotting spoon or otherwise trying to leave as much of the liquid behind as possible in order to keep the bread from becoming too soggy.
- Layer your cold cuts on the “bottom” half of the loaf. This is the order I used, but feel free improvise: mozzarella, salami, ham, soppressata, prosciutto, provolone. You can also substitute your preferred Italian deli meats to your preference, but I recommend at least keeping two types of cheese, a variety of ham, and at least one hard cured meat like the salami or soppressata for a variety of flavor and texture. You’ll want around two and a half pounds of deli meats and a half pound of cheese to make well-layered sandwich.
- Wrap the whole assembled loaf tightly in plastic wrap, being careful not to let the olive spread to gush out too much (some is bound is to happen). Refrigerate overnight, pressed between two boards. I usually clear out a space in my fridge, then set a cutting board or baking sheet on top and put all the items I removed to make room balanced on top of the sandwich to act as weights to press it down.
Preparing for Travel
- When ready to pack up your cooler, remove the pressed loaf from the fridge and carefully unwrap it. At this point you can either make full or half sandwich portions. I use full sandwich portions when I’m providing a main meal to a group, and half sandwich portions in a potluck situation since even one is a pretty hearty snack. For full sandwiches, slice the loaf lengthwise four times, making five sandwich wedges, each about two inches wide. For half sandwiches, cut each of these in half. Be careful not to let your sandwiches fall apart as you cut! Wrap each sandwich tightly first in a layer of plastic wrap, and then in a layer of either foil or parchment paper to your preference. Stack in your cooler and you’re all set for a day out.