Lentils were Friday night meals. My mother served them throughout the cold winter months to warm our insides and since they were always accompanied by a second dish we really liked, even during the old Friday night fish days of Lent, we didn't mind the thick beans with the heavy dark green oil. And as appearingly "dull" as the meal seemed to be, there was an exuberant end-of-the-week tone present each Friday night in that small, warm kitchen. Who am I kidding? Every day of the week was loud and exhuberant in our house but Fridays perhaps more so while my mother served lentils and thick homemade pizza, or lentils with doughy paprika foccaccia, even lentils with "sea squab," a type of blowfish that she found in the local A&P that my sister, brother and I literally BEGGED for each week. Later on, when I got married and had my own kids, I switched it up a bit and served lentils on Friday nights with stromboli's, boboli's or my own homemade pizza, not as thick as my mother's and topped with some of my mother-in-law's pizza ingredients. Although my kids had no baby brother to lock out of the house in the dark while throwing the garbage, there was the same Friday night "exuberance" - lentils, pizza, friends and "Full House" on channel 7.
To get you out of the doldrums this winter, leverage those lentils of the new year with strombolis stuffed with spinach and mozzarella, sausage, peppers and mozzarella, or broccoli di rape, sausage and mozzarella. In warmer months these breads can be stuffed with fresh tomatoes and veggies but those recipes will come. And remember, strombolis and pizza make great appetizers too!
Using Pizza Dough
Working the dough takes time. I prefer using homemade dough especially for pizza but when making a stromboli, store bought works well once you learn how to work it well. Here are some of my tips for working the dough for stromboli, or pizza.
- Use only pre-made pizza dough from a bakery, pizzeria or Italian delicatessan
- If dough has been refrigerated, it's important that it's at room temperature before stretching it out and preparing it.
- Sprinkle a baking sheet with a hand full of flour and put the dough on the sheet and cover with a clean dish towel. Let it sit for about 2 hours.
- Sprinkle some flour on the counter top and press the dough down. Using both hands, stretch the dough in a circular motion. Alternate the hand stretching with a small roller or rolling pin, sprinkling with flour.
- The dough should be rolled out to an oval shape that is length and width of a baking sheet.
Spinach and Mozzarella Stromboli
1 fresh pizza dough, prepared as explained above
2 packages frozen chopped spinach
1 Polly-o mozzarella, grated
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
Olive oil to saute spinach
Pinch of salt
Crushed red pepper or dried red hot pepper (optional)
Defrost spinach and squeeze out excess water. Saute in a frying pan with olive oil, chopped garlic, salt and hot pepper if desired. Spread the spinach onto the rolled out dough, leaving a 1-inch border around edges. Sprinkle the grated mozzarella on top of the spinach.
Taking one end of the oval, roll the bread approximately 3 times, ending with the narrow end facing the top.
Drizzle some olive oil on the bottom of the cookie sheet and spread around with finger tips. Place the bread on the cookie sheet and using your fingers, spread some oil onto the top of the bread.
Bake the bread in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until the crust is golden browned. When cooled, cut the ends of the bread and slice it lengthwise, then slice it crosswise into slices to serve.
Sausage, Pepper and Mozzarella Stromboli
1 pizza dough prepared as described above
1 lb. sweet fresh Italian sausage with fennel
3 red bell peppers, sliced in 1/2" strips
1/2 lb. mozzarella, grated
Olive oil for sauteing the peppers
Take sausage out of its casing and brown the rounds in a frying pan with a tablespoon of olive oil, stirring frequently. Remove the browned sausage to a bowl. In the same pan, add another tablespoon of oil and fry the peppers.
Spread the sausage and peppers onto the pizza dough and sprinkle with mozzarella. Roll the bread from the narrow end as done for the spinach bread but be careful to avoid making holes in the dough from the sausage.
Drizzle olive oil into a cookie sheet and lift the bread carefully onto it. Using your fingertips, spread the oil onto the top of the bread. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown. When cooled, cut off either end and slice bread lengthwise, then slice it crosswise into slices to serve.