Inspired by School Lunch

Last week, Natasha Hegmann’s sleepy 7am local produce processing routine was upset by something delicious. 
At the crack of dawn on Tuesdays, I buzz the back door of the Ennis School kitchen. Our head cook, Tammy, busily pops open the door and greets me with coffee as I haul in a massive tub full of freshly harvested greenhouse produce.

Some of the freshly harvested lettuce from the Madison Farm to Fork greenhouse.

As I settle into my routine of carrot scrubbing and cherry tomato dunking, I observe the whirlwind of activity in the lunchroom. Tammy cleans trays and attempts to police milk spills and cereal upsets caused by elementary students who seem to be sleepwalking through breakfast. Katie, the assistant cook, serves up hot breakfast items to kids. This morning: french toast sticks and sausage. At the same time she’s busy whipping together all the baked goods for lunch that day — homemade hoagie buns for the sandwich bar, brownies, and something that looked quite unfamiliar to me.

Some of Ennis Elementary’s wonderful kitchen staff.

Most Tuesday mornings I try to stay out of the way and not contribute to the chaos of lunchroom traffic. But last week, when Katie came to steal a carrot stick, I asked her to tell me about what she was cooking up for lunch that day.

“Stromboli!” she exclaimed.

I imagined stromboli to be some sort of casserole pasta dish, but she showed me to the baking station and explained it to me. She makes 100% whole wheat pizza dough from scratch, and then tops it with tomato sauce, slices of ham, Italian herbs and mozzarella cheese. The concoction is then rolled up and placed in the oven on a baking tray. At 7:30 am last Tuesday I was honored to try a steaming slice of Katie’s stromboli, fresh out of the oven. After just one bite I knew exactly what I was having for dinner that night.

So stromboli might not be gluten or dairy free; it’s sure full of it’s fair share of fat, salt and nitrites, but it is wholesome and made from scratch using just a few processed ingredients. I believe that this is a huge step in the right direction for school lunch programs. When served in moderation, with a generous helping of fresh vegetables and fruits, stromboli is a great lunch option for kids. Best of all, the school lunch staff serves this homemade meal with pride.

Last Tuesday Ennis Elementary School students had stromboli for lunch and pressed apple cider from locally gleaned apples after school. Next week, Natasha Hegmann will be conducting a fresh apple tasting with three different varieties of apples grown in Montana. Natasha believes students become increasingly more excited about trying unfamiliar foods through repeated exposure to the same new fruits and vegetables in different forms.

Based on Katie’s instructions, I concocted my own stromboli recipe, using fresh, seasonal ingredients:

  • 1 batch of your favorite pizza dough recipe, or store-bought pizza dough
  • Pizza sauce
  • ½ cup diced green peppers (or substitute jarred roasted red peppers, diced)
  • ½ onion, diced
  • generous handful of spinach, washed and dried
  • 4 oz sliced salami, Italian sausage (browned in a frying pan) or Field Roast vegetarian Italian sausage
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese
  • Italian herbs such as basil, oregano, rosemary, black pepper, parsley, etc.
  • Egg wash (1 egg beaten with a little water)
Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet (16×12) with parchment paper or sprinkle lightly with cornmeal.
  • Roll out dough to a rectangle about 16×12.
  • Evenly spread tomato sauce over dough, leaving a 1-2 inch border around the edges. Top with your choice of meats, vegetables and mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle your favorite herbs on top of the cheese.
  • Brush edges with egg wash and carefully roll up, lengthwise. Press edges together to seal and fold up the ends. Brush with egg wash and use a sharp knife to make 3-4 crosswise slices in the top of the stromboli.
  • Bake 22-24 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to set 5 minutes before slicing with a serrated knife. Serve slices of stromboli with a fresh green salad and a side of fruit!