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. 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.
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.
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.
I chose to braid my stromboli rather than rolling it, as it gives it a very rustic presentation that always impresses. If you would prefer to skip this step, simply lay all the filling ingredients on one long side, leaving a 1 inch border, and then roll the dough into a tube shape, pinching the seams at the bottom and both ends.
Once your stromboli has been baked, wait at least 15 to 20 minutes before slicing, so the filling ingredients can cool enough to hold together. This stromboli will actually keep well for a couple of days wrapped tightly in the refrigerator. Just allow it to come all the way to room temperature before serving.
Don’t worry if your braiding isn’t perfect, the stromboli will only look more “rustic” and homemade. You can also make a “pizza” stromboli that children will love by using just pepperoni sausage and mozzarella with a side of marinara sauce for dipping.
Deborah Mele 2013
How To Make A Braided Stromboli
- 1/3 Cup Flavorful, Mixed, Pitted Olives
- 1 Tablespoon Capers, Drained
- 1/3 Cup Oil Packed Sun-dried Tomatoes, Drained and Finely Chopped
- 1 (16 Ounce) Ball Pizza Dough, At Room Temperature
- 8 to 10 Slices Salami (About 4 Ounces)
- 8 to 10 Slices Provolone Dolce (About 4 Ounces)
- 8 Slices Cured Ham (About 4 Ounces)
- 1 (4 ounce) Ball Fresh Mozzarella, Cut Into Slices
- 8 Fresh Basil Leaves
- 1 Egg
- 3 Tablespoons Sesame Seeds
- Place the olives and capers together on a cutting board, and chop with a sharp knife until you have a coarsely chopped spreadable mixture.
- Alternatively, pulse in a food processor to chop. Assemble the rest of your ingredients together.
- On a lightly floured counter or board, roll the dough out into a 16- by 12-inch rectangle.
- Place the dough on a baking sheet topped with a lightly oiled piece of parchment paper.
- Spread the olive mixture over the center of the dough lengthwise, covering the center 4 inches, and leaving 1 1/2 inches at each end.
- Layer the salami, then the provolone on top of the olive mixture down the center of the dough.
- Spread the sun-dried tomatoes on top, then layer the ham and mozzarella on top of the tomatoes.
- Finish by laying down a line of the fresh basil leaves over the filling ingredients.
- To form the braid, starting 1 1/2 inches from the filling, make parallel horizontal cuts in the dough at 1 1/2 inch intervals down both sides, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border at the top and bottom.
- Fold the top and bottom edges over the filling, and starting at the top fold one strip over the filling from the right side, then the left, slightly overlapping each.
- Continue alternating strips to create a braided effect, tucking in the end strips as needed.
- Cover with a kitchen towel, and allow the Stromboli to rise 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Beat the egg with a tablespoon of water and lightly brush the tops and sides of the Stromboli, then sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.
- Bake until golden brown, for 25 to 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let rest at least 15 minutes before slicing into strips and serving.