Monday, May 7, 2012

Calzones and Cadillacs

In Saunders' opinion, the novel had reached its apogee with the marriage plot and had never recovered from its disappearance. In the days when success in life had depended on marriage, and marriage had depended on money, novelists had had a subject to write about. The great epics sang of war, the novel of marriage. Sexual equality, good for women, had been bad for the novel. And divorce had undone it completely. What would it matter whom Emma married if she could file for separation later? How would Isobel Archer's marriage to Gilbert Osmond have been affected by the existence of a prenup?
-Jeffrey Eugenides (The Marriage Plot)

I've never made it a secret that I love Melissa Clark's weekly column, "A Good Appetite," in the New York Times. There's something homey and inviting about her writing; you inherently trust her kitchen wisdom, sensing that she is a savvy home chef who could--and often does--fearlessly conquer any and all recipe(s). In a way, you get the impression that she's not that unlike yourself. She just has a really fantastic job and a byline. Not to mention Andrew Scrivani, recipe testers and a food stylist. Really, who's counting the differences?



So, when I saw her column back in mid-April about calzones, I made a mental note that I needed to try them. The thought of all that gooey, melted cheese encased in crunchy pizza dough with greens and garlic was too much to resist. Then, of course, I got sick and calzones were the farthest thing from my mind. That is, until the one visitor I had during my "convalescence," a good friend and fellow follower of Clark's column, mentioned that she had made them when she came by one afternoon for tea. She highly recommended I make them once I was better.

Well, that day finally came this past Monday--the most active day I had had in a long time. From my morning walk to campus after the bus failed to show up to the need to fight the Whole Foods crowd at 5 p.m., I was comforted by one fact: there would be calzones for dinner. And you know what? It was not only a wonderful way of not being annoyed by silly, unimportant things, but it was also the most fun I had had in the kitchen in a really long time. Considering I had to use a rolling pin on the dough, that's saying a lot (why I'm okay with rolling pizza dough and desperately afraid of any pie dough that's not "no roll" is beyond me). As a member of the pizza family, the composition of the calzone resembles the act of carefully stacking blocks--one layer at a time, it slowly takes shape--cheese is topped by vegetables, which are topped by sun-dried tomatoes and/or olives--until you pinch its ends together and put it in a 500 degree oven. Rougly fifteen minutes later, you can enjoy cutting the calzone in half and watching as the air whooshes out of it in a poof.  What you're left with is basically not unlike a sandwich, but one that has its own unique, weighty charms.


The first bite of ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan bliss, I suddenly remembered all the calzones I would eat as a child when my grandfather and I would go on our special trips to the car dealership, which I know doesn't sound all that exciting, but it was really code for a place that, in my childhood, I associated with magic: the Monroeville Mall. It was always just the two of us and we would have either a calzone or pizza for lunch and, after I would get a book or two at the bookstore, we would end our days with ice cream before being driven back to the car dealership in the courtesy van that I thought was the coolest thing ever. On these trips, I would often fantasize about the car I would one day drive and get to sit behind the wheel of those that really caught my eye. At age 10, I'll confess that I was a red Cadillac Allante Convertible kind of gal. In fact, recalling these memories, I couldn't believe that it had taken me this long to find my way back to calzones. And while I'm no longer sure I would choose a Cadillac as my ideal car, I'm glad I discovered that my appreciation for calzones is still alive and well.


Cheesy Calzones with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I used Clark's method in assembling these calzones--lots of cheese, greens and garlic--but I went with what was on hand in my kitchen. This is the beauty of bready main courses; they're forgiving and allow for most flavor combinations. You get to pick and choose what you like best.
      If you need any other reasons to make this, let me say this: you can make pizza dough (I use Mark Bittman's recipe; sometimes I substitute one cup of whole wheat flour for all-purpose, or 1/2 cup cornmeal for all-purpose. This, however, was all-purpose all the way) and leave it to rise while you go off and do other things. It really is almost too easy and is certainly worth what little effort it takes.

Yields 2 large and deeply satisfying calzones
Adapted from "A Good Appetite"

1 recipe Mark Bittman's pizza dough (will make 2 calzones)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 lb. (about 4 loosely packed cups) fresh baby spinach
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
1 1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese (I used a combination of ricotta made from whole and skim milk)
8 sun-dried tomatoes (stored in oil), roughly chopped
5-7 olives (I used a Greek medley), pitted and roughly chopped

-Preheat the oven to 500 F and lightly oil a baking sheet.
-Heat a large skillet and add 2 Tbsp. olive oil.
-Add 2 cloves of the chopped garlic and fry them for about 30 seconds before adding the spinach, plus 1 Tbsp. water.
-Once the spinach has wilted (this should take no more than a minute or two), add some salt and pepper and set aside.
-Roll out (or stretch by hand) the pizza dough on a lightly floured surface until a 12-inch round.
-Spoon the ricotta onto half of the pizza dough, leaving bare a half-inch to 3/4 inch on the border.
-Top the ricotta with the remaining garlic, then cover it with the mozzarella, spinach and the sun-dried tomatoes (N.B. Since I made two calzones, I divided the filling fairly evenly between them. The only difference was that I added sun-dried tomatoes to both, but olives only to one; this combination can be played with, depending on your preferences).
-At this stage, since my hands were oily from the sun-dried tomatoes, I rubbed the bare edges of the dough round with them, spreading the taste and joy of the sun-dried tomato infused oil. For good measure, I also, brushed these same edges with a little bit of water before folding half of the dough over the filling and pinching all the edges together.
-Transfer the dough to the oiled baking sheet (N.B. I found this stage to be slightly difficult because I didn't want my calzone to fall apart; fortunately, I have two bench, or dough, scrapers and, after dusting each with flour, I was able to transfer the calzone easily).
-Brush the calzone with olive oil so that it turns crispy in the oven.
-Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the crust is golden (I baked mine in two batches).
-Cut the calzone into two halves or enjoy it as a solo meal and prepare to be satisfied. Once the other one comes out of the oven, cut it in half and, surprise, there's lunch for tomorrow.

4 comments:

  1. This looks so delicious! I have to tell you, right before we went out of town, I whipped up some pizza dough with bread flour, which was what I happened to have on hand. The thing rose so high, it was basically khachapuri, and I really think it should have been a calzone! This looks like a much better way to arrive at that end;)

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  2. Thanks! It's definitely a nice pizza alternative and, based on its composition, it's really like a glorified sandwich (my kind of meal). Or kind of like spanakopita, but with pizza dough instead of phyllo.

    But you've reminded me that I need to try khachapuri again with Shota's method of stuffing it with puff pastry....My only concern is that many of my measurements were "a Shota fist of cheese" and I'll never be able to approximate a Shota fist. =p

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  3. This looks so delicious! Reminds of kid growing up and making pizza from the fresh vegtables from our garden in Pa. I love the versatilty with pizza dough, we have lots of arugula so we use this and it is great! Now living in southwest Florida... have a mango orchard and have made so many great recipes... yes even grill mango on pizza dough!
    Check out: www.mangosinparadise.com
    Thanks,
    Libby

    ReplyDelete
  4. Libby, hello! And thanks for your comment. I agree that arugula is great for pizza and, although I have yet to try it, for calzones, too! I'm incredibly jealous of your mango orchard; I will happily check out your blog for mango and other inspiration! :)

    ReplyDelete

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