Calzones and a lesson for an ambitious beginner

Calzones1
Calzones are basically small pizzas folded in half and sealed around the edges. But sometimes, it’s a nice change.

Last week was busy, and I wanted to make a lunch I could eat at my desk if I needed to — something that didn’t require utensils or much cleanup. So, I went with calzones.

This is the second time I’ve ever made calzones. The first was years ago when my brother graduated from high school. I had just tried making them for the first time and got overly ambitious. I told my mom I’d make them for everyone at his graduation party. I made bowl after bowl of dough and kept the oven on for hours — even during the party — as I pulled them out of the oven. For me, that was one of those learning moments, particularly around cooking and entertaining. If you overcomplicate things, you won’t get to enjoy the gathering. Lesson learned.

That time I filled them with ham and cheese, but I liked the ones I made using this recipe more. While they may not look like they’ve been filled enough, the fillings I chose had stronger flavors, so it tasted like enough. Beware that using fresh vegetables such as spinach or peppers can make the bottom of the calzone watery if you haven’t sautéed them first.

Calzones2This recipe — the dough is from the Joy of Cooking — makes two large calzones. I like to keep my calzones basic, so I went with pepperoni, cheese, and pesto. You can put whatever you’d like in them.

Ingredients
2/3 cup warm water
1 1/8 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons pesto
20 slices of pepperoni
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Combine water and yeast in a large bowl and let sit until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly coat another large bowl with olive oil.

Using a stand mixer with a dough hook, or using your hands, mix in flour, olive oil, and salt. Transfer the dough to the oil-coated bowl, cover with a cloth or plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, up to two hours. If you want to speed up the process, preheat the oven to 200 degrees and turn it off when you put the bowl of dough inside. I did it this way, and it took about an hour.

When dough is ready, remove from oven and preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide dough in half. Shape each half the way you would for a pizza. Leaving about an inch all the way around the circumference of the dough, top with sauce, cheese, and pepperoni — or the toppings of your choice. Once topped, fold in half and pinch the edges to close. Place on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

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Experimenting with eggplant

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I never ate eggplant as a kid. Mom never made it, so for most of my life it has been somewhat of a foreign vegetable. After seeing it at the farmers market on a regular basis, I decided to purchase one and figure out what to do with it.

While browsing Pinterest a couple weeks ago, I saw a recipe for mini pizzas that used slices of zucchini for crust. I decided to see if I could do the same thing with eggplant. It seemed like a good starting point and it was. It gave me a bit of experience seeing how eggplant bakes, and I learned that it has a lot of moisture that can be cumbersome if not drained a ahead of time. I made the pizzas two ways — first in the oven and second in a frying pan. I preferred the way it came out of the oven, because it had less moisture in the end. The pizzas are simple enough to throw together on a whim, and they taste good, too. I stuck with basic toppings, but you can easily put whatever you want on them.

After getting that bit of experience under my belt, I felt ready to tackle something a little more ambitious. I had never made Eggplant Parmesan, so I decided to consult my cookbooks to see how it was done. It turns out everybody has their own version. One book called for large slices of eggplant, another called for long sticks of eggplant; one book recommended frying the eggplant in oil, and another said baking it was better because frying it made it too soggy. It sounded like each recipe had its issues, so after checking out the basic methods and ingredients, I decided to come up with my own method.

I chose to approach the eggplant like I would homemade fish sticks. I breaded it in panko, which I like because it gives foods a nice crunch, and chose to bake it in a thin layer of olive oil. It worked surprisingly well. I like a bit of heat to sauce, so the garlic and red pepper flakes took care of that. I didn’t have mozzarella, so I went with fresh Asiago I picked up at the store, and I liked how it complemented the sauce. I’m proud of how this experiment turned out, and will definitely be making this version of Eggplant Parmesan again.

eggplant2Eggplant mini pizzas
Olive oil
Sea salt
Three 1/4- to 1/3-inch slices of eggplant, drained on a paper towel for 30 to 45 minutes
1/3 cup tomato sauce
1 cup grated cheese
About 12 slices of pepperoni

Put enough olive oil in the bottom of a pie pan to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with sea salt. Put the pan in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F.

Once the pan is preheated, add the eggplant slices. Cook for 5 minutes. Take the pan out of the oven and turn over the eggplant slices. Spoon tomato sauce onto each slice. Top with cheese and pepperoni. Put back in oven and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

Remove from the oven and serve.

Eggplant Parmesan
2/3 of an eggplant, cut into 1-inch-wide sticks and drained in a colander or pan lined with paper towels for 1 hour or overnight
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup panko (or breadcrumbs)
Olive oil
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried minced garlic or 1 clove fresh minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Dash salt
3/4 cup Asiago, grated or cut into small cubes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Combine flour, white pepper and salt in a resealable freezer bag. Beat the egg in a pie pan and set aside.

Put five sticks of eggplant into the resealable bag with the flour mixture, seal the bag and shake to coat. Remove and repeat with the remaining eggplant, doing about five sticks at a time. Once all the eggplant has been coated with flour, dispose of any remaining flour mixture.

Put the panko in the same resealable bag. Coat each piece of eggplant in the beaten egg and set aside. Put five sticks of eggplant into the bag of panko. Seal the bag and shake to coat the eggplant. Repeat with the remaining eggplant.

Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch glass pan or cookie sheet. Place the panko-covered eggplant sticks in a single layer in the pan. Bake for 15 minutes, or until bottom of eggplant is slightly browned.

Meanwhile, combine the tomato sauce, basil, garlic, red pepper flakes and salt in a small saucepan or microwavable dish and heat until hot. Set aside.

Once the eggplant has baked for 15 minutes, turn it over and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the other side of the eggplant is slightly browned. Remove eggplant from the pan. Coat the bottom of the pan evenly with half of the sauce. Put the eggplant back in the pan in a single layer. Pour remaining sauce over eggplant. Sprinkle cheeses over eggplant and return to oven for 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted. Remove from oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.