If I had to choose between impignulata and pasta for the rest of my life, and I could NEVER have the other again, I wouldn’t even think about it. Impignulata for the win. And everyone knows how much I loves me some pasta.
Impignulata is ground beef and onion, jelly-rolled into bread dough and baked into a loaf. Simple, humble, but without hesitation, it’s worth breaking the rule that I should eat less wheat. I love impignulata. LOVE IT!
There are different versions of this recipe floating around my family, mostly having to do with whether you cook the ingredients before you roll it, and whether you spiral it after you roll it or just leave it in a long loaf. Everyone in my family who makes this will defend their way of doing it as The Way of doing it, and they all say they learned it from the same person. Of course they did. It’s fun to think that The Uncles were messing with all of us as they passed the recipe for this on to the next generation(s) of impignulata makers. If you look on the Internets, some other Sicilian cooks suggest olives and sausage meat in there. That’s just crazytalk. Or spinach. Who are these people??
Impignulata is lunch/picnic food. I’d never seen anyone eat it warm until my gentleman associate arrived on the scene 25 years ago. You eat it with your hands like a slice of a giant sandwich – like Muffuletta, for those who’ve had that particular culinary delight. It’s definitely one of the handful of recipes that is my culinary family heritage, familial comfort food at it’s finest.
To the method!
Make or buy a raw bread/pizza dough. If you’re in Cambridge/Galt area, DiPietro’s is good for having dough all the time. Ask at the deli if you can’t find it.
Thinly slice (or finely chop) 2 medium onions. The size of your onion-y bits depends entirely on your preference when you’re eating them. My new hateful mandolin won’t cut the same julienne as my beloved old one, so I just do thin slices now. In a frying pan over medium low heat, sweat down the onions until they release their juice and are translucent, but not brown. Or don’t. Some of the versions suggest you use raw onions. I do both, depending on the amount of time I have between the craving showing up, and needing to have it in my belly. If you really like onions, use more. Two onions, each a little smaller than the size of my fist (but I have giant man-hands, so YMMV), per bread dough seems to be a good amount for us.
Brown 1-1 1/2 pounds of ground beef. If you’re particularly good at rolling out dough without tearing it, use more. You’re going to drain the meat pretty well, so it doesn’t matter what grade you use. I use the grade that our quarter-cow gives me. Which I’m guessing is regular. Drain the beef, then tip up the side of the pan and put a wooden spoon under one side while you’re doing the next step so it can drain some more.
Roll out the bread dough to as big a rectangle as you’re capable. If it tears, knead it together a bit with your fingers. My rectangle is usually about 18 inches on the long side, but it’s not an exact science. Sometimes the dough decides what’s going to happen.
Spread the onions out in a thin layer, evenly on the rectangle, taking care to get as close to the short sides as you can. Repeat with the ground beef. It’s important that you keep the filling layers thin, or the weight of the filling will make it fall apart as you’re trying to eat it. You want the risen dough to hold everything in place. Also, If you don’t put onions and ground beef close to the edges, you’ll end up with pieces that are all bread and no filling. And while that’s OK, it’s not ideal. I like the bum of the bread, so I wouldn’t complain, but that’s me. Season with salt and ground pepper, if you want.
Starting on a long edge, roll the dough (like you’re making cinnamon buns) over the beef and onion. When you get close to the other side, pull the unrolled edge over the roll. At this point, there are two camps on what to do. One uncle swears by leaving it like this so it doesn’t get too “doughy”. The other uncle says to spiral it.
Spiraling it is lovely (and makes it immensely more transportable). Your call. Also your call as to whether you want sesame seeds on it. The non-spiral-method Uncle gave me that tip. I’ve never seen it done like that except by him (and me); I think he started free styling in his old age.
Bake at 325F for about 30 minutes. Un-spiraled will cook faster than spiraled, so you should check it after 30 minutes; it might need another 5 or 10.
Either eat it warm (if you’re my husband), or wait for it to be fully cool, wrap in foil, and take with you to… well… anywhere. To serve, cut wedges to uncoil the spiral, or, if the spiral seems small enough to handle, cut like pie. Eat more than you had intended, and regret nothing.