One of the not-so-favourite task in my house is packing school lunches. Since my kids prefer to take leftovers instead of sandwiches, weekday dinners are often influenced by what makes great lunch time fare. And, there’s the challenge. What’s substantial for dinner yet appealingly portable for lunch?
For me, one answer is a homemade calzone.
Calzone is a savoury Italian turnover stuffed with tomato sauce and cheese. It is a type of stuffed pizza, folded in half and closed with a scalloped edge. This Italian food came into being more than 150 years ago in Naples and is now found throughout Italy and in most North American cities.
There are so many wonderful things about this kind of pizza. Enclosed in the dough, the ingredients of the filling keep their true essence. All the flavours are sealed in, whereas on a traditional flat pizza they dissipate, dry out and lose some of their succulence. Another beauty of this dish is its portability. It can easily be eaten on the run if lunchtime is short and rushed.
Finally, there is the sensual appeal of sinking your teeth into the crispy, golden crust of a calzone to reveal a luscious filling. Eating a calzone is totally a different experience than eating a pizza.
The process starts with the dough. What you use depends how pressed you are for time. Buying a pre-made pie crust, crescent dough, or biscuit dough are all quick choices. Although it does require an hour rising time, the best pocket for the calzones is a yeasty dough.
I simply use my never-fail pizza dough recipe.
Just like any pizza toppings, you can add ingredients according to preference. Fillings for calzones vary depending on taste, and can be cater to individual personal choice.
In general, a calzone is hearty fare, and meant to be a substantial meal. Most fillings start with a mixture of cheeses including Parmesan, ricotta, and mozzarella. Next, chopped cooked meats are added, along with vegetables like onions, garlic, spinach, tomatoes, and others. An entirely vegetarian calzone may be made of a rich vegetable mixture with the addition of tofu.
As with pizza sauce, spices and herbs added typically include oregano, pepper, nutmeg, basil, marjoram, fennel, parsley, thyme, sage, and rosemary. If adding a sauce, mix it with the fillings before stuffing the pocket.
Just because the calzone is of Italian origin, it doesn’t mean that they have to be limited with Italian flavours (after all, we have Thai pizzas these days). Incorporate new flavours from global kitchens: replace tomato sauce with mango chutney, salsa, pesto or the Szechwan sauce. Use cooked tandoori chicken, taco seasoned ground meat, or spicy lamb souvlaki. The combination of flavours is just endless.
Whatever you decide to include into your filling, just don’t over-stuff. Adding too much will make it difficult to seal the edges without squirting sauce out the side.
Calzones are also great to make ahead and freeze. Simply assemble calzone and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Once they’re frozen, tightly wrap each in plastic wrap. Transfer calzones to reseal-able plastic bags; label and date. These can be kept frozen for up to two months. To serve, unwrap calzones, and place on parchment-lined baking sheets; bake without thawing until golden, at 350C for 30 to 40 minutes.
If you are craving something a sweet after your savoury calzone, the Italian pastry can also take on a sweet twist. By adding pre-made pie fillings or hazelnut chocolate spread within the pastry layer, can easily turn the calzone into a desert.
So next time you are in a conundrum about what to send in the lunch box, consider the convenient calzone. It will make the grade with your kids.
Steps to making a perfect calzone:
1. Mix the dough according to the package or recipe instructions. Cover and let the dough rise until doubled.
2. Roll out a small dough ball (about 8 ounces) into a round 1/4 inch thick. The gluten in the dough may try to make the dough spring back into shape. It’s often easier to roll the dough partially, let it sit for a few minutes to relax, and then roll the dough again. Try to roll the dough uniformly. Thin spots lead to leaks.
3. Place the filling of your choice on half of the dough.
4. Fold the top of the calzone crust over the bottom into the traditional half-moon shape. Seal the edges by crimping them with a fork. Be sure to press firmly enough to seal the edges and keep the fillings from leaking. Use the edge of a knife or fork to shape the crust edge into a uniform border.
5. Just before baking, brush each calzone all over with a beaten egg. At this point you can sprinkle with a flavour enhancer of your choice: parmesan cheese, sesame seeds, garlic powder, etc .
Tandoori Chicken Calzone
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 chicken breasts, diced
1 teaspoon tandoori powder
1/2 teaspoon taco seasoning
chopped cilantro, finely chopped
red onion, thinly sliced
dough for 1 pizza
Heat oil in a frying pan. Add chicken and spices. Cook until chicken is cooked through. Take off heat and add onion and cilantro. Cool mixture. Divide dough into 4 balls. Roll out. Spread Mango chutney on 1/2 of dough. Top with chicken and cheese. Seal shut and bake at 425C for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
Homemade or store-bought pizza dough – enough for 4 servings
1/2 lb lean ground turkey (7 per cent fat)
1 heaping teaspoon taco seasoning blend
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup diced white onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 large green bell pepper, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup salsa of choice
1/2 cup shredded light Mexican-style cheese
1/2 large avocado, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup 2 per cent plain Greek yogurt
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high. Add the onions and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the onions have begun to soften. Add in the garlic, and saute for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add in the ground turkey, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring to crumble. Stir in the green pepper and taco seasoning mix and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir in the salsa.
Divide the cooked meat and vegetables into 4 equal servings and spoon each onto 1/2 of a pizza dough circle. Top the filling evenly with the shredded cheese. Fold the other half of the pizza dough over the filling and pinch edges closed. Using the tines of a fork, pierce the top of each calzone a few times to let the steam out while cooking.
Place calzones into the oven, and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the calzones are golden brown. Meanwhile, prepare the avocado cream by mashing together the avocado flesh, yogurt, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Once cooked, let the calzones sit at room temperature for a few minutes. Slice each calzone in half, and serve with the avocado cream.
Banana and Nutella Calzone
Roll out a small amount of pizza dough. Spread Nutella (hazelnut-chocolate filling) inside, add sliced banana and place on top of Nutella. Fold in half, and shape like a crescent, trimming the excess dough from crescent 425C for approximately 25 minutes or until golden. Serve with scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at email@example.com. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.