Many of my dinner ideas come from sitting at my desk, thinking about what to make and realizing I am one or two ingredients short of every dish I’m thinking of. Last week, I was hungry for a muffaletta but did not have most of the traditional ingredients. I started to wonder if I could make something close and thought about a stuffed bread my Aunt J makes that is a favorite of mine. As a child, I would scan the table at every family gathering, looking for this bread; when I spotted it, I would immediately start planning how I could fend off my cousins and uncles to get more than my fair share. I admit it. It’s weird to plot food hoarding, but I did it– that bread was wonderful. I still don’t know her exact recipe (why I haven’t asked for it is a complete mystery) but remember a soft, chewy bread; tangy, sweet salami and gooey cheese. Yum. And so I set out to create something resembling Aunt J’s bread, with hints of a calzone and some of the flavors of a muffaletta. I worked with ingredients I had on hand and turned out a pretty decent version of what I had in mind.
A muffaletta traditionally has capicola, salami, pepperoni, ham, Swiss cheese, provolone and an olive salad. Planning ahead, it would be easy to buy and incorporate more of these ingredients into your stuffed bread to get closer to a true muffaletta. Because I was missing so many key elements, I hesitated to call it “stuffed muffaletta bread”– but the essence is there. It’s really delicious, with the soft and chewy bread I remember from Aunt J’s version, salty melted provolone and any kind of salami you’d like to use. (I chose toscano.) For the bread, I used my pizza dough recipe because I’m comfortable with it and know it will stretch thin and cook through, even when rolled. The olives and garlic provide a salty-sweet element to play against the bread and add some texture and color. I also used pickled cherry peppers for a little spiciness; the acidity of the brine is nice to balance the richness of your other flavors. This bread can be sliced thin and served as a side to almost anything, or sliced thick and eaten as the main part of your meal, calzone-style. You could even dip it in red sauce if you wanted. It’s easy to customize to your taste and really simple to make.
Stuffed Bread with Provolone, Salami and Olives
For the dough:
- 1 1/3 c. warm tap water
- 2 1/4 tsp. yeast
- 1/2 tsp. sugar (optional)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 T. olive oil
- 4 – 4 1/2 c. flour, sifted
- 6 – 8 slices provolone cheese
- 6 – 8 slices salami of your choice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 – 12 large green olives with pimentos, chopped finely
- 2 T. olive oil
- 5 pickled cherry peppers, minced (optional)
At least 4 hours before dinner, start your dough. (It can sit and wait for you, but can not be rushed.) In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer*, add the warm water, yeast and sugar if you’re using it; allow to sit undisturbed for 10 mins. or so while the yeast dissolves. I use tap water that’s warm to the touch– boiling is much, much too hot but it needs to be warm enough to activate the yeast. When the yeast is dissolved and your mixture looks milky and light brown, add 1 T. olive oil, salt and 1 c. flour. Using a dough hook attachment, turn the mixer on low and mix until the flour is incorporated, then add another 1 c. flour and do the same. Add 2 c. more (4 c. flour total in your dough at this point) and mix on medium speed until you have a ball of dough, sometimes formed around the hook. Touch the dough; if it’s very sticky, add the final 1/2 c. of flour, but if it’s not sticky, don’t add any more flour. Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and knead by hand for 2-3 more mins. until the dough feels smooth and elastic and doesn’t stick to your hands at all. Add a splash of olive oil to a clean glass bowl at least twice as big as your ball of dough; place the dough into the olive oil and turn it to coat completely. Cover with a clean cotton towel and leave in a warm place (preheat your oven if you need help warming the kitchen) for at least 90 mins. When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, re-cover and let it rest for at least 15 more mins.; it is then ready to use. At this point, it can wait up to an hour for you.
While the dough is rising, prepare your other ingredients. Mix the olives, garlic, cherry peppers if you’re using them and 2 T. olive oil. When you’re ready to assemble the bread, preheat the oven to 375 degrees if it’s not already on; roll the dough into a rectangle on a cookie sheet or similar. Cover with the olive mixture, working out to the edges but leaving an inch of dough clear at one of the short ends:
Place the provolone and salami on in alternating rows; you can do whatever pattern you like as long as you keep the thickness of toppings consistent, which will be important when you’re baking. When you’re done adding toppings, start at the toppings-covered short end (the left/top of the pan in the picture above) and roll the dough toward the clear short end. Stretch the clear end of dough up and over and pinch it in to seal; pinch the edges shut, too. I still had some toppings come up and out of my “sealed” roll, but not to the point where it fell apart or burned. Place the roll with the sealed long side down on a greased pan and brush the top with olive oil, if you like, to help brown; score the dough four or five times with a sharp knife and then bake for 25-30 mins., until the top is firm, sounds hollow when you tap it, and is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 20 mins. or so before slicing. Alternately, cool completely and slice at room temperature. This bread is delicious both hot and at room temperature.
*You can absolutely do this by hand if you don’t have a stand mixer or need a stress release.