Stromboli can be a somewhat contentious term, and depending on who you ask, definitions vary somewhat drastically. We know what it's not, but while stromboli is neither calzone nor submarine sandwich, it's also a little bit of both. The calzone, essentially a pizza folded into a half moon, can be found in pizzerias across Italy; the stromboli was created in the United States and is about as Italian as Caesar Salad.
So, what is it?
Making stromboli begins with a dough—sometimes pizza, sometimes bread—that's stuffed with various cheeses and Italian cured meats. The fillings are encased in the dough—sometimes braided, sometimes rolled—then baked, and finally sliced to serve.
Though there are many variations now sold across the US, most often a stromboli is filled with a selection of Italian deli meats and cheeses (while calzones can be filled with just about any toppings found on top of a pizza). It's said that the first stromboli was created in the early 1950's by Romano's Pizzeria & Italian Deli in Philadelphia, and that it's name was inspired by the eponymous Rossellini film starring Ingrid Bergman.
It is perhaps ironic that I've just returned to Umbria, where I'll be living for the next 6 months, and I'm sharing an Italian-American recipe that can't even be found here in Italy. But I do love this dish and I make it often, whether I'm in the United States or abroad. It's a very versatile and accessible recipe, easily tailored to your personal preferences. It makes a great finger food to serve for casual family dining, entertaining, or outdoor picnics—not only can it be prepared ahead of time, but it travels really well.
Since this column is all about easy Italian recipes, I will keep the preparation of this Stromboli quick and simple—I'll even recommend that you buy prepared pizza dough. Look for dough in the bakery department of your local grocery store, in the refrigerated section. If you can't find it, ask! Every grocery store with its own bakery will have it on hand, and I've never found one unwilling to sell it to their customers. If you do want to make your own dough, you can find some of my own pizza dough recipes here (or use Kenji's NY-Style dough recipe). A word to the wise—whenever I make my pizza dough at home, I usually double the recipe and freeze the extra dough in 8-ounce balls for future use.
You can include any of your favorite Italian cured meats in the dish, although pepperoni, salami, soppressata, and ham are most commonly used. For your choice of cheeses, I find that provolone, mozzarella, Fontina, or Asiago cheeses work well, though any semi-soft or soft cheese should be fine. For my stromboli, I love to add a little basil or sun-dried tomato pesto, finely chopped olives, or fresh basil leaves for some extra flavor.
When cutting your dough in preparation for braiding, leave at least a 1 1/2 inch border around the filling ingredients to prevent all the cheese from oozing out. Though I dusted my stromboli with sesame seeds after brushing it with an egg wash, you can sprinkle about a teaspoon of mixed Italian seasonings over it instead.
I prefer sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil—they're softer and have more flavor than the regular dried variety—but be sure to drain them well before you chop them. Any great-tasting olives will work, such as Kalamata, Gaeta, Castelvetrano, or Cerignola. Avoid the bland canned varieties, which won't add the punch you're looking for.
One of the most important things to remember when using pizza or bread dough for recipes such as this one is to allow the dough to come to room temperature. If the dough is too cold, it will constantly retract as you roll it, taking you twice as long to complete the task.
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About the Author: Deborah Mele is the owner of Italian Food Forever, an Italian recipe blog, as well as Recipe Rebuild, a healthy recipe blog she shares with her daughter Christy, an RD. Deborah lives 6 months a year in Umbria, Italy where she oversees her guest house Il Casale di Mele.