This is not a stromboli. If we’ve spoken in the last day, I’ve demanded that you weigh on a name for this dish. Pizza Strudel? Thousand-Layer Stromboli? Stromboli Babka? But that’s not where it began. It began as a dish called Scaccia Ragusana, which I found in an old Saveur issue. This stuffed flatbread is a Sicilian specialty from the province of Ragusa, made with a very thin rectangular layer of dough that’s folded in on itself a few times to make a veritable mille-feuille of a pie, with a dozen stunning layers greeting you when you, lucky you, cut into it. Not all scaccias have these thin folded layers; usually only the tomato and cheese ones do, while others have fillings from ricotta and fried eggplant, ricotta and sausage, greens, beans and more, folded over and crimped at the edges, sometimes elaborately with a braid, like a giant empanada.
I haven’t heard of any that are tweaked to taste like an American pizzeria pepperoni pie — fluorescent red salami rounds, oregano, red pepper flakes, mozzarella and all — but we can thank my husband for this suggestion.
It’s also not not a stromboli. My pizza-loving friend and I have had elaborate conversations over the last few days over what defines a stromboli (an Italian-American invention that Philadelphia lays claim to, of a rolled pizza or Italian bread dough, filled generously with various cheeses and Italian cured meats and vegetables), a calzone (more of a turnover with pizza ingredients but the sauce on the side; I have a beloved one with eggplant and ricotta in my first cookbook), and this scaccia. All of this is juicy stuff if you’re a bit nerdy about food and cooking, but is distracting when the only thing you need to know is that I think this might be my new favorite way to make pizza, possibly forever, because just look at it.
Why would you make pizza if you could make this? This is a pizza mic drop, and it’s barely more work. I’m showing it here two different ways: first, as a packet-looking loaf, baked on flat sheet. It looks so rustic when you take it out, just a deeply browned, partially charred, almost unfortunate-looking slab that looks like a pizza croissant when you cut into it. It was, in fact, our favorite. But I’d be remiss not to share the second way too, because I think this is the only part anyone will remember: the pizza babka. This was inspired by an updated scaccia from Saveur, in which it is folded into a loaf pan and then sliced like a loaf of the happiest, most show-stealing bread in the world.
Stromboli (Scaccia Ragusana-Style)
About the flours: A persnickety thing here is this, and all scaccias, call for hard durum wheat flour, which is readily sold here as semolina flour. (It’s also used in pasta.) I find it easily from Bob’s Red Mill at any store that has a display or section, and use it for only a portion of the flour here; I suspect you’ll be just fine without it. But if you can get it, or have any interest in pasta making, it’s absolutely worth it because it gives the loaf a great crunchy edge and a sturdiness to hold up to the filings.
About the cheese: The traditional cheese for a scaccia is caciocavallo (the Saveur recipes suggest pecorino romano as a swap but you should not do this; 12 ounces yields a tongue-singeing saltiness). I sought some out, because I’m spoiled to not live far from Murray’s Cheese, and was delighted to find that it comes in a gourd shape and tastes, forgive me, it’s not an exact match, I know, like a slightly aged provolone, far more easily to find around here. For my pizza-like version here, I use a little bit of pecorino for salt and bite, a lot of provolone and a small amount of mozzarella for that recognizable stretch, but not so much that it will sog the layers.
About the sauce: This recipe will yield about 3 cups of sauce; you’ll probably only need 2. Put the rest in a jar and be so happy that you have really great homemade tomato sauce around for a week or so. It’s a great core recipe for sauce.
Picture note: The packet version you see in my photos is scaled back from the recipe you see here, because I was retesting and didn’t need a full one. The full one can be cut into 8 squares.
- 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons or 165 ml) lukewarm water
- 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2/3 cup (115 grams) semolina flour
- 1 1/3 cups (175 grams) all-purpose or bread flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Red pepper flakes, to taste
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- A few sprigs of fresh basil
- 2 ounces finely grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese
- 6 ounces coarsely grated provolone (aged is great if you can get it) or caciocavallo cheese
- 2 ounces coarsely grated mozzarella (if buying in a ball, buy wrapped in plastic, not sitting in water)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- About 3 1/2 ounces thinly sliced pepperoni (optional)
- A few slivered leaves of fresh basil (optional)
- Make the dough by hand: In a large bowl, combine flours and salt with your fingers or a whisk. Make a well in the center and pour in warm water, sugar, and yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes, until foamy, then add oil to liquid and mix together with your hands or spoon until a craggy ball forms. Knead it together, gathering any loose flour, into a ball, then transfer to a counter and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until a smooth, elastic ball has formed. Oil your now-empty bowl and return dough to it, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours; it should double. (Mine was done on the early end — for once.)
- Spread tomato sauce over the whole rectangle in a thin, but not too thin, layer. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with about half the cheese, scatter with slices of pepperoni and slivers of basil, if using.
- Fold the left and right sides of the dough over the filling to meet at the center. Spread the top with more sauce, seasonings, cheese, and toppings.
- Fold the top and bottom in so they meet in the center; spread the top with more sauce, seasonings, and remaining cheese and toppings.
- Fold top half over bottom half, take a deep breath, and lift this from the counter and onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Prick the top all over with a fork.
- Spread tomato sauce over the middle three-fifths of the rectangle in a thin, but not too thin, layer. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with about 2/3 to 3/4 of the cheese, scatter with slices of pepperoni and slivers of basil, if using.
- Fold the two plain sides of the dough over so their edges overlap in the middle of the rectangle by 2 inches. Spread the left two-thirds (I read this like five times when making it, it never made sense, just do it, I promise it does) of the dough with more sauce, seasonings, and the remaining cheese and toppings.
- Fold the righthand, plain third, halfway over the sauce. Fold the lefthand side of the dough over the righthand, as if completing the tri-fold of a letter.
- Fold the dough crosswise over itself and gently twist the ends of the rope together once.
- Take a deep breath, and lift this from the counter and into the parchment-lined loaf pan.
- Prick the top all over with a fork.
Make the dough in a stand mixer: Pour water, sugar, and yeast into the bottom of the mixer’s bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Add oil to yeast mixture, then flours, then salt and use the machine’s dough hook to pull the mixture into a craggy ball. Knead on low for 5 minutes, scraping down as needed, until a smooth, elastic ball has formed. Briefly remove it from your mixer bowl, oil the bowl, and return the dough to it, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours; it should double. (Mine was done on the early end — for once.)
Meanwhile, and I mean right away so it has time to leisurely cool, make the sauce: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the bottom of a medium-sized pot over medium, then add garlic, cook until it barely picks up color, and add pepper flakes and oregano, stir again. Add canned tomatoes (be careful — it’s going to splash up) and salt and stir to combine. Add basil, bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce to a low simmer, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard basil. Adjust seasonings to taste. Set aside to cool to lukewarm or room temperature while dough rises.
Mix cheeses together in a large bowl and refrigerate until needed.
To make a stromboli/packet-like/scaccia shape: Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll your dough into the thinnest rectangle that you can, pulling and stretching it as needed. You’re looking for 1/16-inch thickness; the longer sides should be parallel to you.
Bake the stromboli/packet/scaccia shape: For about 1 hour, until deeply browned all over and charred in some spots. Rotate the pan as needed for even coloring. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before cutting into squares with a serrated knife, and serving.
To make a pizza babka: Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a loaf pan with a sling of parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll your dough into the thinnest rectangle that you can, pulling and stretching it as needed. You’re looking for 1/16-inch thickness; the longer sides should be parallel to you.
Bake the pizza babka: For about 1 hour, until deeply browned all over and charred in some spots. Rotate the pan as needed for even coloring. Immediately invert the pie onto a rack, remove the loaf pan and parchment paper, and let the pie cool in this position for 10 minutes. Invert the pie right-side-up before slicing with a serrated knife to serve.
Both shapes: Reheat fantastically. I wrap them in foil in a 350 degree oven until warmed through, about 15 minutes. I’d expect them to freeze well too.