Decades ago during his undergraduate years, The Motley Monk was a guest for a Sunday afternoon Italian fiesta hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Mostardi.
The Motley Monk had never been invited to or attended such an event because, being of Polish and German extraction and living in a more mongrel-like, suburban neighborhood where the only real Italian family lived five blocks away, a fiesta consisted of three "courses": 1) pre-dinner snacks (beer with pickled herring [really good] and pickled pigs feet [no good]); 2) dinner smoked brats and onions on a grilled hotdog bun slathered with hot mustard; and, 3) dessert (a sheet cake). Outside in the back yard was a good place to host a fiesta; but, a picnic bench at the forest preserve provided an even better venue!
The Mostardi's Sunday afternoon Italian fiesta exploded The Motley Monk's cultural horizons far beyond the parochial locale in which he grew up.
Beginning at three o'clock in the afternoon, the Mostardi's fiesta featured five courses. Each was unveiled over a period of time that amounted to almost five hours. There was "the anti-pasto" (which looked sort of like lunch meat, cheeses, pepperocini, roasted peppers, and salad which was a complete meal in itself). There was "the pasta" (the homemade lasagna was "to kill" for). There was "the carne" (the meat, but The Motley Monk thought the sausage and meatballs served with the pasta was the meat and happened also to be another meal in itself). There was "the insalada" and homemade Italian bread (sort of like French bread but fluffier and, yes, this course was another meal unto itself) . Lastly, there was "the dessert" (actually, three desserts: fruit, cake, and candy). With each course, there was additional vino.
"Mangé, mange. Eat some more! Letta me fill your plate! You're a growing boy! Whatta, don't chew love my food?"
It was simply delicioso and so very filling for this fledgling, neophyte Italian!
The Motley Monk learned one thing after the first course: had he been born into an Italian family, there is no doubt The Motley Monk would have exploded into a gazillion pieces somewhere between the kitchen, dining room, and living room or died of a massive coronary around four o'clock on a Sunday afternoon before he was five years old!
One of the items served for the antipasto was a "stromboli." It alone would have likely been the main cause of The Motley Monk exploding or having that coronary. The Motley Monk had neither heard of nor tasted stromboli prior to the Mostardi's Sunday afternoon Italian fiesta. But, once he did, The Motley Monk never looked back and, for decades, has experimented to figure out exactly how to replicate the delicious "symphony of flavors" emanating from Mrs. Mostardi's stromboli.
Over the ensuing decades, The Motley Monk has tried various strombolis at Italian restaurants and pizzerias in Chicago, Tulsa, Philadelphia, and New York. Some were very good and some were just good. None, however, had the taste of Mrs. Mostardi's stromboli. While each version of stromboli taught The Motley Monk something additional about how to make a very good stromboli, none was good enough in itself.
What follows is The Motley Monk's recipe for a very good stromboli, inspired by Mrs. Mostardi.
First: the dough.
The dough must pizza-like dough, more like bread dough than thin crust pizza dough. Water (¾ cup), olive oil (1 Tbsp.), sugar (1 Tbsp.), regular all-purpose flour (two cups), salt (1 tsp.), and yeast (1 Tbsp.) are all that's needed to make this dough.
Put the water, olive oil, and sugar into a microwaveable measuring cup and heat on high in the microwave for 50 seconds. Remove from the microwave.
While the water, olive oil, an sugar is heating, pour the flour, salt, and yeast into a large mixing bowl. With a wooden spoon, stir to distribute the ingredients throughout. Form a well in the middle of the flour mixture.
Spray a second large mixing bowl with oil and set aside.
Pour the water, olive oil, and sugar into the well and, using the wooden spoon, gently stir the ingredients at the edge of the well, turning the bowl, until all of the ingredients are incorporated into a loose ball. Depending upon temperature and humidity, some additional flour may be required.
Dust the ball with a bit of flour and begin to work the dough with the heel of one hand while turning the bowl with the other hand. Don't be timid...work the dough! Gradually incorporate all of the bits and pieces into the ball. If the ball is damp, dust it with a bit of flour. The more the bowl becomes "clean" as the dough is worked, the better the dough. After working the ball in this way for a couple of minutes, it will become soft and elastic.
Place the dough into the second mixing bowl, spray the top of the dough with some oil (to avoid sticking), and cover with plastic wrap. Place the mixing bowl into the microwave. The heat from the water, oil, and sugar mixture will warm the dough and cause it to rise. The microwave provides an excellent enclosed incubator for the yeast to do its magic.
(In the stromboli below, The Motley Monk made a specialty dough consisting of finely ground Italian flour and corn meal. Although the flavor is excellent, it makes for a good stromboli not a very good stromboli.)
The Motley Monk recommends starting the dough approximately two hours before making the stromboli because the dough has to rise for one hour and it takes approximately 30-40 minutes to cook the stromboli once it has been placed into the oven.
After the dough has risen, very generously flour the surface where the stromboli will be assembled. Use a rolling pin to roll (or hands to flatten) the dough out, shaping it into a rectangle. Here, The Motley Monk used a chopping block.
NB: Be sure the surface is very generously floured!
Second: the "innards " (aka, "ingredients").
The Motley Monk has learned that the oil, the meats, the cheeses, and the spices must be of the first quality! Anything short of very good olive oil, salami, cappacola (or ham), basil, oregano, roasted peppers, and cheeses just doesn't work, turning what could be a very good stromboli into what is, at best, a good stromboli. So, don't skimp! Purchase first quality ingredients and use them because making a very good stromboli doesn't require using a whole lot of any particular ingredient, making stromboli a rather inexpensive first course (or, for guests at HIH II on Thursday pinochle night, a main course).
Third: building the stromboli. There are dozens of variations on this particular Italian theme. However, The Motley Monk has found that beginning with olive oil, grated parmesan and Romano cheeses, freshly ground pepper as well as chopped fresh oregano and basil makes for a much superior flavor.
NB: No matter what ingredients are being used, be sure to leave a one-inch edge on the sides of the dough for rolling the stromboli.
Brush some olive oil onto the dough and sprinkle the other ingredients on top of the olive oil. The Motley Monk believes this adds better flavor because the olive oil as well as the oil contained in the cheeses "cook" the spices, releasing their flavors which get sopped up into the dough. Then, place the thinly-sliced pieces of salami on top of the olive oil, cheeses, and spices.
Next, layer some roasted red peppers atop the salami. The Motley Monk recommends roasting fresh red peppers. It's easy to do ahead of time over a gas stove or in the oven. However, bottled roasted red peppers work equally well. Just be sure to drain them very well or the stromboli will get watery and the dough will become soggy and mushy on the inside.
Place some sharp provolone atop the roasted peppers. Don't use regular provolone. It doesn't add the depth of flavor required for that "symphony of flavors" characterizing Mrs. Mostardi's stromboli.
Then add some thin slices of red onion (not yellow onion, but Vidalia onion works well) and top with cappacola (or ham). In this iteration, The Motley Monk used ham, saving the cappacola to wrap around melon for an hors d'oeuvre.
Fourth: rolling the dough and forming the stromboli "log."
Many cooks live in absolute fear of this step because the dough sometimes sticks to the surface and then tears and/or the stromboli log may be difficult to maneuver onto the oiled cookie sheet. The Motley Monk offers a foolproof method guaranteed to ameliorate this fear:
Paint the stromboli log with an egg/water wash (one egg and a teaspoon of water). Using a fork, pierce the top of the stromboli log so that the heat and air can escape while the stromboli is cooking. Let the stromboli log stand for about fifteen minutes to settle and for the dough to rise a bit and sop up some of the oil and spices.
Place the cookie sheet into the oven (center rack). Allow to bake for fifteen minutes before turning the cookie sheet around in the oven to ensure that the stromboli cooks evenly. The stromboli should be cooked entirely through in about thirty or forty-five minutes. The stromboli is done when the outside is a beautiful golden color and the aromas emanating from the oven are that "symphony of flavor" characterizing Mrs. Mostardi's stromboli.
Remove the cookie sheet from the oven. Allow the stromboli to set for fifteen minutes before slicing it with an electric knife (a bread knife works well, too).
Et voilá: a very good stromboli.
Want to go back to The Motley Monk homepage? Click on the button: