So, the Steelers start the season against the longtime rival Cleveland Browns. We’re all worked up in a lather of optimistic expectation, with an undercurrent of wariness than comes in a “rebuilding” year. Only one thing is certain: a man’s gotta eat. And what does a man gotta eat?
Since we had company for the game today, I made a bunch of ’em. A delight of stromboli. That’s what multiple stromboli are called, the same way we have a “murder of crows,” a “prickle of porcupines,” and a “shrewdness of lemurs.” A lot of people don’t know this, but I do, because I’m wise. And well read. And, thanks to my “delight” of stromboli, I’m also well fed.
If you want to make some stromboli for yourself, I’ll tell you how. You’ll need:
Flour, yeast, sugar, salt, olive oil, water, and a bunch of stuff for filling–pretty much anything you’d put on a pizza that isn’t too watery is fair game. Things like tomatoes and pineapple aren’t that great, because they can make the dough soppy. Likewise fresh buffalo mozzarella–on a pizza there is plenty of exposure for that moisture to steam off. We use provolone and bagged, shredded mozzarella.
Put some hot water in a bowl to start–this is to warm the bowl, nothing else. After a few minutes reserve a cup of the water and dump the rest–you want the water around 100 degrees F, like a baby bottle–it should feel just warm against your skin. If the water is above 114 there’s a good chance you’ll cook your yeast, better to have it too cool–all that happens is your dough will rise slightly more slowly. Put a tablespoon of flour and a tablespoon of sugar in the warm water, stir it a little, then add 2.5 teaspoons of yeast.
Let it sit at least five minutes until the yeast gets a little foamy–I could have let mine go a little longer, but I hadn’t eaten breakfast and kick off was looming. I was in a hurry.
Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a larger bowl, then dump in the yeast-water, mix a little, and add a cup of flour. Put a teaspoon of salt on top of the flour, then start mixing. When you’ve got a nice sticky ball, turn the dough out on a floured surface and begin kneading. Keep adding flour incrementally, about 1/4 cup at a time, while you knead, until the dough is “silky.”
At this point, you’re wondering what the hell I mean by “silky,” as I was when I started teaching myself to bake. The best answer I can come up with is that it’s no longer sticky but not dry. It’s smooth, like a woman’s skin. Trust that you’ll know. As the dough gets closer to how you want it, reduce the increments–the kneading is what makes or breaks your masterpiece, and it’s the last place you want to skimp on effort.
Once it’s done, put it back in the large bowl, drizzle some olive oil over it, and swirl the bowl around to evenly coat the dough. Then cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it sit about 90-120 minutes, until it’s doubled in size. (Why the damp towel? Because it seals out most of air and prevents the dough from drying out and getting a hard “skin”.
While the dough is rising, crack a beer and prep your toppings. We used green peppers and onions from the garden, cleaned and diced, then stir fried about 5 minutes on medium high in a tablespoon of olive oil–just enough to steam off some of the water and partially cook the vegetables. Stir constantly–when the onions start to turn translucent you’re done.
Preheat your oven to 450 F.
Once the dough has risen, turn it back out on your floured surface. It will have the best texture if you can stretch it like the guys in a pizza shop, but I always tear the dough or throw it on the floor, so I embrace sin and roll my dough out with a rolling pin. I can get away with this because I’m not Italian, but I’ve been told that rolling out dough is unforgivable, and I apologize to all who are offended.
Pile on the toppings–meat, then vegetables, then cheese–over half the dough. The cheese melts over the veggies and holds things together.
Make sure to leave about .75 inch of dough around the edge clear of toppings. Once you’re good to go, fold the empty half of dough over the toppings and pinch together. It works best to tug the lower part over the top–this keeps the meat juices from dripping out and making a horrible burnt fat stench that roils from your oven when you open the door to peek. Sometimes, I take a pair of forks and perforate the top of the stromboli to let the steam escape. Today I was too lazy. Finally, use a spritzer or pastry brush to lightly coat the top of the stromboli with olive oil, then add your favorite herbs–oregano, basil, etc. We have a shaker jar of dried “Italian seasonings” that we bought for some reason years ago–mostly we use fresh herbs from the garden, but I’ve kept that it around for things like garlic toast and stromboli. The top of your stromboli is also an excellent place to sprinkle some of that mostly flavorless dried Parmesan from the back of the fridge–the stuff in the green cardboard box–baking it brings out a nice, salty, unique taste.
Throw that bad boy in the oven–on a tray if you must, on a baking stone if you have one–and cook it about 12 minutes. While you’re baking, warm up some cheap pizza or pasta sauce–I like something smooth, rather than chunky, of good quality but not too distinctive–we don’t want the sauce to distract from the stromboli. I like to use a local company’s “meatless sauce”–Del Grosso’s. It’s usually less than $2 and it beats the crap out of corporate stuff like Ragu or Prego.
When it turns heavenly brown, its good to go. Cut it with a pizza cutter or a sharp serrated knife.
Reserve some for yourself, and throw the rest at hungry teenagers–we had four of these strange creatures at our house today, two that live here and two that are loaners–none dared eat on the furniture. Epilogue: it was delicious and the Steelers won, though not without flirting with an epic defensive collapse in the second half. Whew. Things are good in Mudville for another week.