Sunday, January 27, 2008


I had some leftover brisket wallowing in my fridge on last week and got it in my head to make some mini-calzones over the weekend. I thought I'd add some caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, but got stumped on the cheese. I stood in front of the cheese fridge at Trader Joe's for at least fifteen minutes picking up one cheese and then another, squinting my eyes and tasting various imaginary flavor combinations in my mouth. Goat cheese? No.... Sharp cheddar? Possibly... Maybe with some BBQ sauce? Sigh.... And then my hand wavered over some smoked gouda. I can't remember the last time I had gouda. No reason, really, I just...haven't.

And standing there imaging how gouda would taste with my smoky brisket etc. etc., I remembered my dad coming home from work with a shopping bag, all excited and jittery as he pulled out a round of smoked gouda and some tart apples. I was probably fourteen or fifteen at the time, and I just remember how happy he was as he cut up the wedges of apples and arranged them around some slices of gouda. "Here," he said, pushing the plate toward me, "Try this!" And with a fair bit of curious trepidation (likely disguised as teenage sass), I mirrored him as he took a slice of apple and layered on a slice of gouda. I bit off a corner and oh my! Good stuff!

I think this was the first time that I realized that cheese could be something other than what was sprinkled over pasta. It could be something more. It could transform my quiet, reserved father into a euphoric, cheese-pushing gourmand. That's some powerful stuff, right there.

And that's how I ended up with smoked gouda in my calzones. Not precisely a 'traditional' filling for calzones, true, but then I've never exactly been one to stand on formalities. I think my calzones and I will be juuuust fine.

I started making these mini-calzones a while back as part of my open-ended quest to find healthy, better-tasting, freezable, and easily-transportable lunch alternatives instead of things like Hot Pockets, Cup-o-Noodles, Lean Cuisines, and their ilk. It took a while to find a crust that fit the 'healthy' profile, until it dawned on me
(like a skillet to the forehead) to use my thin-crust pizza recipe. Duh. That dough is perfect for this--thin, but chewy; easy to make and healthy to boot; just enough flavor to give you a nice bread-y background but not so much that it steals the show. Splitting the dough into eight portions seems to give just the right amount of dough for a six-inch calzone. Poi-fect.

The combinations for fillings are really endless. I usually do a medley of meat, cheese, and sauteed veggies--whatever I have on hand.
Keep in mind that they are mini-calzones, after all, so there's a limit to what you can stuff in them. I usually weigh out a half-ounce of meat, a half-ounce of cheese, and then layer on as many veggies as I think will fit. Some combos I've done in the past are spicy pulled pork/goat cheese/caramelized onions and red peppers, sausage/cheddar/veggies, eggplant/kalamata olives/feta. You can also throw in a sauce of your choice--BBQ sauce works really well and a dab of tomato sauce is never out of place. Obviously, these calzones can be entirely vegetarian--even vegan, since the crust doesn't have any dairy! Woot!

The only drawback is that these are pretty labor-intensive to make, so I usually set aside an afternoon, make a double-batch of dough and keep on trucking until my fillings run out. I have found that it helps to lay out little piles of fillings in a row so you can just scoop and fold, scoop and fold.

Once they're cool, I wrap them up in saran wrap and throw them in a zip-lock bag in the freezer. A few minutes in the microwave gets the cheese melty and all the insides piping hot.

(makes 8 with one batch of dough)

1 batch of thin-crust pizza dough (Recipe HERE)
4 ounces of cooked meat, separated into 8 half-ounce piles
4 ounces of cheese, separated into 8 half-ounce piles
sauteed veggies of your choice (onions, green or red peppers, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, etc.)

Pre-heat oven to 475-degrees F.

If you haven't already done so, cook your meat and set it aside to cool. Then sautee your veggies in a little olive oil until they are mostly cooked through and set them aside to cool. It's important to cook these ahead of time because they won't cook all the way through in the oven. Also, if you add the veggies raw, they will likely release a lot of liquid in the oven and you'll get mushy calzones.

Find a bowl in your kitchen that is about 6 inches across (in diameter). Use this bowl as a guide to trace 8 circles onto parchment paper. Cut the parchment into 8 pieces with once circle on each piece of parchment. Flip the parchment upside down so the actual pencil/pen mark of the circle is against the counter and your food-surface is clean.

Cut the pizza dough into 8 equal pieces. Place one piece on a piece of parchment paper in the middle of the circle. Press down on the center of the dough and then use the heel of your hand to gently push outward on all sides until you've filled the circle. The dough will be about 1/8 i
nch thick. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough and parchment.
Cover each rolled-out circle as you finished with saran wrap or an upside down bowl to keep it from drying out while you finish the rest of the circles.

Place the meat and cheese in the center of the dough and layer on as many veggies as you think will fit (you'll get a feel for it after making one or two). Leave about 3/4 - 1 inch of space around the edge.
Lift one side of the dough over onto itself and pinch the dough together in the middle. Pinch all the dough to one side closed and then go back and pinch the other side closed, forming a half-moon. I find it easiest to do this if I pick up the calzone and hold it upright in my left hand like a taco, and then I use the fingers of my right hand to pinch the rest of the dough closed. You can poke any errant bits of filling back inside. Repeat with remaining calzones. (Note--the parchment paper will continue sticking to the dough and that's fine! When the calzone bakes, the parchment will gradually un-stick itself.)
Arrange as many calzones as will fit on a sheet pan. Just before baking, use a paring knife to cut three steam vents in the top of the calzone--go right through the parchment paper. Bake the calzones for five minutes and then flip them over. Bake for another 5 minutes and flip them over again. Bake for another 3-5 minutes until the calzones are golden and browned in spots. This whole baking process takes about 15 minutes in my oven, but it may take shorter or longer in yours. Since the filling is already cooked, you're really just looking for the crust to be a nice browned color. If the edges start to char, that's a sign that they're likely done cooking.

Remove calzones to a cooling rack and bake off any remaining calzones. Once they're completely cool, wrap each calzone in plastic wrap and keep them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. They'll last in there for a few months (if you don't manage to eat them all first...)

I don't get too worried about the calzones splitting open, honestly. These are more functional than beautiful and I'm usually the only customer I have to please! Once they're cool, I tuck any tumbling bits of filling back into the shell and wrap it all up in saran wrap so it's a tidy package for grabbing in the morning and sticking in my lunch bag.

Re-heat for 1-3 minutes on High. I've also eaten them cold (like cold pizza) if they've been thawing in the office fridge for a few hours.

For interested parties and Weight-Watchers folks: The calzone shell alone is 2 points. A half-ounce (14 g) of meat is usually 1-2 points, and a half-ounce (14 g) of cheese is also usually 1-2 points. If I only use a dab of olive oil for the veggies, I usually count them as zero points. So! One calzone is usually 4-6 points or so. Not too shabby for a meal-on-the-go!


Angelina said...

This recipe sounds great-but the dough looks really wet. How do you roll it out without it sticking to the pin and everything?

Emma C said...

The dough is tacky, but not really wet or sticky. I use my fingers to 'roll' it out, but I suppose you can use a rolling pin too. I'll try to get a picture of me pushing the dough out so you have a better visual.

Also, for the record, the pictures don't get the color of the finished calzones very well--They should be toasty brown and golden all over. :)