The Story of the Stromboli began because I had some random ingredients that I had to put together somehow to form a Meal. This is how many kitchen victories begin. It is, of course, also how many kitchen tragedies begin, but let’s not dwell on that right now.
I had thawed a 1 1/3 pound package of pizza dough. (This was homemade dough I’d put together last week. I deliberately made a vast quantity of dough, and used 1/3 of it the day I made it, and froze the rest of it, divided between two plastic tubs.) I had this notion that if I rooted around in the fridge, I would find that I had what it would take to make a novel dinner, with the pizza dough as a base. Unfortunately, I struck out. I had Parmesan cheese, but the jar of roasted red peppers I’d thought I’d use had gone moldy. (Whoops. Kind of a big jar, too, which sucks to waste, but — sometimes these things get away from us.) I had half an onion in the fridge, and a half of a bag of frozen spinach. I could make pizza, sure, but…. wouldn’t it be more fun to make a stromboli?
But: meat. The only meat in the house that I needed to use up was pot roast. Could I make pot roast stromboli?
I suppose I could. On Facebook, where I voiced my query publicly, one person suggested making a stromboli using challah dough, and stuffing it with kasha and pot roast. I think I’d add some smothered cabbage and onions: an idea worth exploring another day.
But on realizing that I lacked mozzarella — without which I feel there is no stromboli — I decided that the thing to do was stop at the grocery store and find some other meat to put in the beast. Pork products were out of the question, and since the store didn’t have any beef salami (which would have been ideal), I opted for pastrami. My daughter, who has never seen me buy pastrami before, said, “Yuck, what’s that?” I said, “You’ll love it.” She scowled at me, but we walked home with our groceries and I told her my plan.
“I’m gonna sauté some onion and garlic and cook spinach into that too, and then I’m gonna roll out the pizza dough, and I’m gonna put cheese and pastrami and the onion and spinach and garlic on, and then I’m gonna roll it up so it’s like a jelly roll cake [something she’d seen made on the Great British Bake Off] and then I’m gonna bake it.”
“That sounds good,” she admitted.
“Ok, then,” I said. We got home and I got to work. I grated cheeses (mozzarella, Parmesan, provolone) and I cooked the vegetables and I greased a big cooky sheet. In the meantime, I texted my husband and said, “Pastrami stromboli for dinner.” He wrote back, “not sure what that is, but you had me at ‘pastrami.'” When he walked in the door, I was starting to assemble the thing itself.
It turns out that rolling out pizza dough for stromboli requires a lot of flouring the countertop — an element of the system one never worries about when making pizza. I worried about toughening the dough, doing this, but really didn’t have much choice in the matter: pizza dough is sticky stuff. I preheated the oven to 425°, and began to shape the dough in earnest.
What I wanted was a big, wide rectangle. Something akin to what I’d have when rolling out babka dough. You have to use a rolling pin to do this, but I was careful to not press down too hard: I didn’t want to press out all the air bubbles in the dough. When the dough was the right size — about 10″ wide and 15″ long — I scattered a thin layer of grated cheeses over the whole thing. Then I took the pastrami slices — which were very thin slices — and laid them over the dough. I made sure that there was pastrami everywhere — no gaps. Then I put the spinach and onion mixture on top of the pastrami, spread as evenly as possible. I dusted the top with a little more cheese, and then realized I had to figure out how to roll this thing and get it onto the baking tray.
A smarter person would have handled this better, but I’ve learned my lesson. (Don’t worry, it all came out okay, but it could have been easier, had I planned a little.)
I folded over the shorter sides to make sure that nothing would fall out of the ends of the roll as I worked — not a lot, maybe an inch — and then rolled the dough and filling as tightly as I could, coming from the long side. It was quite inelegant and looked very blobby at the ends, by the time I was done. Furthermore, the dough was reluctant to roll: the countertop really wasn’t the right surface to do this on. I think next time I do this, I will roll out either on parchment paper or on a pastry cloth. (Presumably a lot of people do the rolling and assembly straight on the cooky sheet, but I find it too awkward: the sheet is big enough to bake on, but not big enough to roll out on.) That, or else I need to be much more bold about how much flour I’m willing to sprinkle on the countertop.
I managed to move this monstrous creation onto a greased cooky sheet — it was not the most elegant move ever, but I did it — and then I took care of the last two steps, which are blessedly simple: slash the top of the loaf a few times with a sharp knife, and then brush on an egg wash (just an egg whisked up, no big deal). A lot of recipes don’t suggest this next, last step, but I recommend it highly, because it seems to help with avoiding a doughy, under-baked product: let the stromboli rest and rise again for about twenty minutes before putting it in the oven. Brush it again with more egg wash, if you feel like it. Then, with the grace and style you may have lacked when moving the stromboli onto the cooky tray, slam it into the oven and bake the sucker at 425° for about 30-40 minutes. When the stromboli is baked, you’ll be overwhelmed by its presence, a kind of savory jolie-laide monster. A beast, yes, but irresistible.
Don’t cut into it right out of the oven. Let it sit five or ten minutes, then cut. And then — with marinara sauce to dip, or not, as you see fit — you may stuff your face with stuffed bread, with the Hausfrau’s blessing.