I’ve had the same birthday meal every year for as long as I remember. Spinach calzones, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. All homemade, of course.
The calzones were (and still are) such a treat. They’re a bit time-consuming to make, and, as such, they were never a common sight on our dinner table, guaranteeing that they’d taste even better when my birthday rolled around. Once you get the hang of the assembly-line process, though, they’re pretty darn easy to crank out.
There are some things you don’t mess with, and these little packets of pastry heaven are one of them. The filling is spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, garlic, and absolutely nothing else. From my admittedly purist perspective, they are perfect this way, and I flatly refuse to accept any modifications.
For someone less limited by historical biases, consider these a blank slate. Fill with any combination of vegetables you like, but definitely try the spinach first.
You too may find them perfect just as they are.
The only problem I have with these is one of judgment. Yes, the usual “How many do I want to eat?” versus “How many should I eat?” debate comes into play, but, moreover, I can never decide what the proper amount of filling should be. I tend to err on the side of caution and drop in a healthy spoonful or two. It’s almost always too much—a happy accident.
My favorites are the ones that are so stuffed that they pop in the oven; the neat, self-contained ones, on the other hand, are solely the work of my calzone-whispering mother.
But, hey, if we say (purely hypothetically speaking, of course) that she’s been making these for me since my fifth birthday, that’s more than twenty-five years worth of experience. Maybe I need another twenty-five years to really get the hang of it. I’ll keep telling myself that, at any rate.
Anything to keep those calzones coming.
Adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook
After much struggle with the dough recipe in the Moosewood Cookbook (see image, above), an Italian-American acquaintance shared her mother’s recipe with my mother, and we’ve been using it ever since.
For the dough:
4-5 cups bread flour (all-purpose also works)
1½ packages dry yeast (not rapid rise)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup warm water
1. Dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water (not too hot, or it’ll kill the yeast). Let it proof in a 3- or 4-cup bowl, until frothy on top.
2. In a large bowl, combine 4 cups of flour and salt. When the yeast is done proofing, add it to the flour, then add the olive oil. Mix gently with a large scraping spatula.
3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured counter and knead in as much of the remaining flour as needed to make a smooth, elastic dough. Knead for about six minutes; do not overwork the dough.
4. Place dough in a large, oiled bowl and cover. Let rise for 2 hours, or until it is double in size.
For the filling:
1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 cloves crushed garlic
½ cup minced onion
2 tablespoons butter
1 lb. fresh spinach
2 packed cups grated mozzarella
½ cup freshly-grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper
Dash of nutmeg
1. Wash, stem, and finely chop spinach. Steam it quickly, on medium-high heat, adding no additional water. When wilted and deep green, it is done and should be removed to mixing bowl with slotted spoon.
2. Sauté onion and garlic in butter until translucent and soft. (I was an onion-averse child, and Mom kindly omitted this step. As much as I love onions now, I refuse to let her reinstate it.)
3. Combine all ingredients, mix well, salt and pepper to taste.
1. Punch down dough. Divide into six sections and roll out in rounds as thin as you can, 3/8- ¼-inch thick. Fill with ½-¾ cup filling, placing filling on one half of the circle, leaving a ½-inch rim. Moisten the rim with water, fold the empty side over, and crimp the edge with your favorite fork. Prick or make small holes in the tops. Let rest for 15-20 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 450°. Brush calzones with egg whites and bake on an oiled tray for 15-20 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown. Serve hot, with marinara for dipping sauce.