2010 June: Comfort Food

Stromboli is a sealed, toasted Italian sandwich, usually stuffed with deli meats and cheese. Romano’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant in Essington, Pennsylvania, lays claim to the original, where Pete Romano and family continue the stromboli tradition set by his grandfather in the early 1950s. But other operations carry stromboli on their menus, adhering to the original concept or bending it into an Italian turnover, using pizza dough instead of the traditional Italian bread dough. Each holds favor with American diners, who seem to seek out stromboli with avid affection.

Romano’s serves between 400 and 450 stromboli a week, with stromboli making up about 20 percent of its business. “For us, it’s a sandwich,” says Pete Romano, manager of Romano’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant and steward of his grandfather’s labor-intensive stromboli recipe. “The crust should have the consistency of Italian or French bread — kind of crunchy. You should not taste the dough, but rather, fully cooked bread.” The restaurant offers a number of stromboli, including the most popular, The Original, which houses ham, peppered ham, coteghino (fresh sausage) and American cheese, with a choice of sweet or hot peppers.

“People hear that we invented the stromboli and they want to try the original one,” says Romano. Others include The Special Stromboli, a powerhouse of lunch meats: ham, coteghino, ham cap, prosuttino, Italian salami andpepperoni, as well as American cheese and a choice of sweet or hot peppers. For the Vegetarian Stromboli, diners can choose either broccoli or spinach with mozzarella, provolone, Romano and American cheeses.

“Our kitchens operate as a bakery,” says Romano. The bread dough is made in the early morning, proofed, punched down, filled with ingredients, then proofed again. The stromboli are pre-baked, frozen and then refrigerated until service. When ordered, they are re-heated in the oven for 20 minutes. “It was never a fast food,” adds Romano. “Since 1950, it’s been a pre-fabricated sandwich.” One of the upsides to reputation is interest from across the country. Romano obliges by selling frozen stromboli via FEDEX delivery.

Stromboli’s Italian Restaurant in Ackworth, Georgia, menus stromboli that feature pizza dough, not bread dough. Indeed, this operation’s version of stromboli is much more prevalent than the stromboli found at Romano’s — and it’s incredibly popular in this incarnation, too. Stromboli’s serves both stromboli and calzone, and the stromboli outsell the more familiar calzone. First, the difference: “The way we do it here, calzones have ricotta, stromboli doesn’t,” says Thomas Marroquin, general manager of this 122-seat restaurant. “But they’re both folded over pizza without the sauce. It’s absolutely crucial to get the dough right — that’s what makes a great stromboli.”

The Steak Stromboli, a take on the classic Philly cheese steak, is the most popular: medium-rare peppered steak, roasted green pepper, sautéed mushroom, caramelized onion and a blend of whole-milk mozzarella and skimmilk mozzarella. “That 50-50 blend of mozzarella really makes the stromboli delicious,” says Marroquin. “The whole milk adds a lot of flavor and good texture, and the skim mozzarella binds it together without adding any more grease to the stromboli.” The dough is stretched and hand tossed, then stretched into a rectangle. The ingredients are placed over top, then it’s folded up like a taco and flipped over, so the fold is underneath. After the top is sliced for venting, it’s baked for 8 to 10 minutes. “We make everything to order, so the stromboli are assembled as the orders come in,” says Marroquin. “Our pizza guys work really hard.” He charges $8.95 for stromboli and runs a 21 percent food cost. “The food cost is why we love the stromboli!” he says.

Stromboli’s also menus a Create Your Own Stromboli, allowing diners to choose up to four items for $8.95, with each additional ingredient running 75 cents. “By far the most popular? Sausage, pepperoni, mushroom and onion. I hear that all the time,” says Marroquin. The most unusual combination? Buffalo chicken, mozzarella and ranch dressing. “The customer loved it. … It’s hard to go wrong with a stromboli.”

Italian Deli Stromboli
Yield: One stromboli

Frozen bread dough, thawed
Dried oregano, to taste
Dried parsley flakes, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
31⁄2 ounces thinly sliced capicola
31⁄2 ounces thinly sliced Genoa salami
2 cups shredded mozzarella
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Garlic powder, to taste
1 egg yolk, beaten

Let dough rise until doubled, according to package directions. Punch down. Roll loaf into desired shape (rectangular, pictured at left). Sprinkle with oregano and dried parsley flakes, leaving 1 inch of dough at the bottom. Sprinkle with mozzarella, Parmesan cheese and garlic powder. Add capicola and salami. Fold dough, bringing one corner to the other; turn over, then fold to bring other corners together. Seal the seams and ends with a small amount of water. Place seam side down on a baking sheet. Brush with egg yolk. Bake in 375 F oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve warm.

Katie Ayoub is is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.