This month, Elle chose West Virginia Style Pepperoni Rolls for the Bread Baking Babes to make. Being a vegetarian, pepperoni was out of question. That’s how these Red Bell Pepper Tomato Rolls happened.
Elle picked these rolls because they brought back memories of a visit to West Virginia for a crafts festival. On the way back home, they stopped at a gas station and bought Pepperoni Rolls which were a local speciality. I understand these rolls are traditionally individual longish rolls with the filling inside. However, I’ve seen them as round rolls, Swiss roll style bread, etc.
West Virginia Pepperoni Rolls are Italian-American food somewhere between a Pasty and a Sausage Roll. They came about as a convenient lunch for coal miners who were mostly of Italian descent. One Giuseppe Argiro is credited with first selling the rolls sometime between 1927 and 1938. Apparently they became so popular that he left the mines and started a bakery selling the rolls! These rolls are basically sticks or slices of pepperoni inside bread. Cheese, though not part of the original recipe, is now commonly added to pepperoni in the rolls.
If I wanted to mimic the taste profile of the roles somewhat I needed something oily and spicy since I wanted to get close to the taste and colour profile. Elizabeth Tanna suggested that “the dominating spice in this sausage is paprika, which gives it a characteristic orange color. Other common spices are anise, allspice, fennel, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, mustard and black pepper. Many recipes also add cayenne pepper for a little kick.”
I didn’t want to really substitute for the meat itself. A lot of chefs think in terms of mushroom as an acceptable alternative for meat. We’re not fans of the fungi! I didn’t want to do paneer or tofu either. Spiced oven roasted red bell peppers/ capsicum and dried tomatoes seemed good. And these Red Bell Pepper Tomato Rolls happened. Grated cheese should also work here but I left that out.
One of the many good things of living in a sub-tropical climate is that I get tomatoes the year round. Sun dried tomatoes are very expensive here because they’re imported and considered gourmet food. So I oven dry tomatoes in small batches whenever I need some. I then toss the dried tomatoes in olive oil, as opposed to soaking them in it, and refrigerate them.
Roasting the red bell peppers/ capsicum gives them a smoky flavour. I oiled and roasted the bell peppers on an open flame. The skin just needs to char. The bell peppers/ capsicum don’t have to cook through, only soften a bit. After they cooled peel off the charred skin and cut into long slightly thick pieces.
I heated some olive oil and steeped some garlic, crushed fennel, red chilli flakes and mixed dried herbs in it. This, the red bell pepper strips and the oven dried tomatoes became my filling. I understand the original rolls are about the size of a hot dog roll. I scaled Elle’s recipe to make a smaller batch of about 5 x 2-inch rolls.
These rolls are best eaten warm, soon after they’re baked. Serve as part of brunch or as a filling snack. They’re quite filling as a meal if served with a salad and/ or soup on the side.
Red Bell Pepper Tomato Rolls
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp active dry or instant yeast
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 40 gm unsalted butter soft at room temperature
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 medium red bell peppers/ capsicum
- 1/8 cup olive oil
- 1 tsp garlic paste
- 1 tsp fennel seeds crushed
- 1 tsp red chilli flakes or to taste
- 1 1/2 tsp mixed dried herbs
- Oven or sun dried tomatoes
- Col milk to brush on dough
- 2 tbsp sesame or Nigella seeds optional
- Dissolve the 1/2 teaspoon sugar in the 1/2 cup warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over water and let stand for 5-10 minutes until yeast 'blooms'.
- You can knead the dough by hand or machine. Put the flour, bloomed yeast, sugar, butter, and salt in the bowl. Add enough water and knead till you have a soft and elastic dough. Shape the dough into a ball.
- Lightly oil a large bowl and then place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover loosely and let rise till double in volume. This should take about 1 1/2 hours.
- Prepare the filling while the dough rises. Brush the red bell peppers with oil. Roast them over an open flame till most of the skin has charred uniformly. Allow them to cool. Then peel off the charred skin and cut them into long somewhat thick pieces and keep aside.
- Heat the olive oil and add the garlic paste. Stir and turn off the heat. Stir in the crushed fennel seeds, mixed dried herbs and red chilli flakes. Let them steep while the oil cools down.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet.
- Gently knead to deflate the risen dough. Divide into 6 equal portions. Shape into balls. Roll each ball out into an approximately 4x4-inch square. Brush a thin layer of the spiced oil on the surface, leaving the edges free.
- Visualize the square of dough in two halves. In the centre of one half lay two strips of red bell pepper and a couple of pieces of dried tomato. Now fold the edge of the dough over the filling but to the centre. This will give you one covered half of dough and one uncovered half. Now repeat the same filling on the uncovered half and roll the covered part over this to cover it as well. See the video link in the story above to see how this is done. Tuck in the sides and pinch the dough to seal. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
- Place the shaped logs/ rolls on a greased or parchment lined baking tray. Let them rest for about 10 to 15 minutes. Brush them with cold milk and sprinkle sesame seeds. Bake the rolls at 180C (350F) for about 20 minutes till they’re done and golden brown in colour. Cool till they’re warm enough to be eaten comfortably.