Everyone has that one dish that takes them back home. No matter where they may be at the time, one bite of this dish will immediately transport them back to a moment long gone. One bite, and they are back in the kitchen with grandma or sitting at the table with family. For me, this dish has always been my mom’s stromboli.
As shocking as it may seem to people who know me now, growing up I was a very picky eater. My childhood diet can basically consisted of ramen noodles, peanut butter, and Reese’s cups. More often than not, I complained regardless of what my poor mom put in front of me on the dinner table. However, one of the very few meals I would eat without a single complaint was my mom’s stromboli, and she would never hesitate to make it at my request.
She made many types of stromboli, but when I asked for it she knew exactly what that meant – the one stuffed with her homemade meatballs. Nevermind that it meant making a batch of fresh meatballs for her obnoxious, picky daughter, or that it meant she was stuck in the kitchen forever, only to then be tasked with not only preparing and cooking these items, but then protecting the fresh-out-of-the-oven meatballs from hungry passers by.
Of course you don’t have to make your own meatballs, and I rarely do. I never quite nailed mom’s meatball recipe, so I’ll be the first to admit that I would rather save the time and pick up an order of my favorite meatballs from one of our local Italian restaurants to chop up and use those instead. Mom’s favorite was stuffed to the brim with ham and melty provolone cheese, and she rewarded herself with one of those whenever stromboli was on the menu.
You could, of course, fancy this up by using your favorite homemade white bread, dinner roll, or pizza dough recipe, but I use a trusty box of Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix, because that’s what mom always used. You could argue that you don’t really save any time with that, as it’s basically just pre-portioned flour and salt with a packet of dough, but old habits die hard and I’ve yet to make a dough from scratch that can replicate the Pillbsury box mix. Plus, it wouldn’t have the same nostalgic feel when I made it.
It’s crazy how the connections we make through food can last a lifetime. The smell of this stromboli in the oven always takes me back to mom’s too-warm kitchen, the towel she would always have draped over her shoulder while she cooked, and the inevitable burns on my fingers from trying to snag a fresh-baked meatball before mom could resign it to its bready fate.
It’s been almost two years since she’s been gone, but it feels like just yesterday we were laughing so hard that we cried, and I still reach for my phone to call her for comfort at the end of a bad day. No matter how old you are, losing a parent is the one thing that forces you to finally grow up. No matter how old I was, I was always still her “little girl,” but now I’m just me – the me that she helped to mold and shape. Today would have been her 54th birthday and even though I can’t laugh with her anymore and I won’t be able to sing her “Happy Birthday” today (not without looking like a crazy person singing to myself, at least), I can still feel close to her when I make her recipes.
Happy birthday, mom. <3
- 1 box Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix (or 1 pound homemade dinner roll or pizza dough)
- 1 cup hot water
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- Meats/cheeses of your preference, recommended:
- Meats: cooked meatballs tossed in sauce, sliced ham, pepperoni, salami, etc...
- Cheeses: Melty cheeses like provolone, mozzarella, fontina, etc...
- Optional: Fresh basil or spinach, roughly chopped
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
- Warm pizza sauce, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment and set aside.
- Prepare your filling ingredients, ex: slice or shred cheeses, if meatballs are too large quarter or chop them, etc. It's helpful if the fillings are close to room temperature rather than refrigerator-cold.
- If using a different dough, ignore the dough ingredients list above and prepare per your own directions.
- If using Hot Roll Mix, combine hot roll mix and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and whisk to mix well.
- Add hot water and butter, and mix briefly on low to moisten the flour mixture.
- Add egg and continue mixing until a soft dough forms.
- Switch to a dough hook and continue mixing until the dough is smooth, it may be slightly tacky but should not be not wet or sticky. Add additional all-purpose flour, one tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too wet. *(see note below)
- Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and divide in half. Cover dough with a kitchen towel and let rest for five minutes before continuing
- Take one half of the dough and roll out on a lightly-floured surface. Roll into a rectangle roughly 13-by-10 inches in size. It can be slightly larger or slightly smaller, you don't want the dough to be too thin or it will rip when you try to roll it, however if it is too small then it will be difficult to roll.
- Top rectangle with desired fillings, ex: top with meatballs, then with cheese, leaving a 1-inch border. If you want to put some sauce inside the stromboli, be sure to use a very light hand with the sauce or it will end up just bubbling out of the dough. I usually leave sauce to be served on the side (with the exception of meatballs which i lightly toss in sauce prior to putting inside the stromboli).
- Roll the stromboli from the long end, folding it over itself similar to how you would roll cinnamon rolls.
- Lightly dampen the long edge that will seal the roll with water before completing the seal and press firmly to seal. Fold the ends under the roll to seal the ends.
- Carefully transfer the stromboli roll to your parchment-lined baking sheet and cut slits into the top to vent.** (see note below)
- Repeat with second half of dough.
- Cover stromboli with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. (I usually leave mine on top of the preheated oven to let it rise.)
- When stromboli has lightly poofed, brush with an egg wash. If desired, you may sprinkle herbs or parmesan cheese on top - I find this is especially helpful if I have two stromboli that I want to be able to tell apart. I will sprinkle one with a topping and leave the other without.
- Bake stromboli for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown on outside and inside if fully-cooked. If the stromboli browns too quickly, cover lightly with a sheet of foil and continue cooking.
- Remove from oven and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.
- Serve with warmed sauce on the side.
* You may also knead the dough by hand if you are more patient than I am. It comes together pretty quickly, I just prefer to use the dough hook.
**To transfer my stromboli, I usually extend my arm parallel to the stromboli and gently roll it onto my arm. I then rest it on my arm until I get to the pan and gently roll it off my arm and onto the pan.