Calzones and a lesson for an ambitious beginner

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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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Focaccia fresh from the oven

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One of my favorite things about playing around in the kitchen is learning something new. I had been toying with the idea of trying focaccia for a couple weeks, but didn’t think I had the time to tackle something new. When I was making pizza dough using the recipe from the Joy of Cooking, I glanced at the next column on the page and saw a recipe for focaccia. As it turns out, focaccia is just pizza dough baked differently. I usually make half of the pizza dough recipe because I only need one pizza, but I decided to make the full version so I could use half for pizza and half for focaccia.

The first round I made had a tougher exterior than I expected. Then I realized I made the mistake of kneading it with the other half I used for the pizza dough. The bread was still good, but I wanted to see if I could achieve the softer texture. The next day, I made the dough again and stirred the ingredients just until they were combined, without kneading. This time around, I decided to try different toppings on each round. I topped one with Italian cheeses, slices of fresh tomato and sea salt; and the other with a couple cheeses, table salt and a bit of white truffle oil. They baked quite nicely and were softer than my first go-around, but still had a stiffer top crust than I expected. Next time I might try topping it with caramelized onions and bleu cheese and adding more olive oil on top to see if that helps soften the top of the bread a little more.

Now that I know how simple it is, I’ll definitely be baking this bread again. Why buy it from the store when you can have it fresh out of the oven?

foccacia081113-2Ingredients
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
Up to 1/2 cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons grated cheese, such as Parmesan or Asiago
1 teaspoon herbs, such as chives, sage and basil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine warm water and yeast in a bowl and let sit until the yeast is dissolved, or about 5 minutes.

Add flour, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt. Mix by hand or on low speed for about 1 minute. Divide dough in half and roll each piece out to a 1/2-inch thick round. Transfer to well-oiled 8- or 9-inch round cake pans or square baking pans. Let rise, covered with oiled plastic wrap, for 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Ten minutes before baking, press the dough with your fingertips to make indentations all over the dough. Drizzle with up to 1/2 cup olive oil. Top with cheese, herbs and sea salt.

Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the pans to a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, as is, or sliced open horizontally to use as a sandwich bread.