I love good pizza! For me, this means a thin, flavourful crust, and a few well-seasoned, choice ingredients that compliment it. I enjoy the harmony of the beautiful fresh toppings combined with just a little bit of delicious pizza dough in each mouthful. It’s the same way I like my calzone (a folded, stuffed pizza pocket). In fact, prepared this way, pizza or calzone becomes a true gourmet food!
When I think of pizza, my mind drifts back to delightful memories of small trattorias in sunny Italy, sipping a glass of wine, perhaps cold Pino Grigio or a smooth Valpolicella, and the mouth watering aromas of simple fare prepared with the freshest ingredients and the passion of true lovers of wonderful food!
After spending several hours walking off the beaten track, discovering some of the hidden treasures of the city or village I happened to be visiting, one of my favourite lunchtime treats would be to enjoy a delicious pizza at one of these small local restaurants. No tourists ~ just cheerful locals, enjoying a meal with friends or family, and a friendly chat with the chef as he or she walks around to greet patrons who, no doubt, have been visiting the establishment for years.
This is where I discovered the true art of making excellent pizza! Beautiful, thin, crispy crusts with a slightly chewy edge (from the durum semolina used in the dough) garnished with just a few toppings bursting with flavour. Italians love to savour the freshness and taste of individual ingredients, and have a special reverence for vegetables. Whether it’s rich, garlicky, sun-ripened tomato sauce, fire roasted, marinated baby melanzane (aubergine) or carciofi (artichokes), fresh porcini sautÃ©ed in garlic releasing their rich, heady scent, or some other fresh vegetable, their pizzas rarely contain more than a select few. Their pizzas are garnished simply, with a few vergetables or herbs and one of their excellent cheeses, with fresh, garlicky seafood, or perhaps a combination of thinly sliced, salt-cured meat and cheese or fresh rucola (arugula or rocket). Served golden, drizzled with aromatic olive oil and fresh herbs, these pizzas are a gourmet’s delight!
So as you can see from the first photo above, to prepare my calzone, I roll out the crust very thinly before filling it. One of my favourite fillings is fresh spinach sautéed with garlic and chilli, prosciutto, lots of coarsely chopped black olives, fresh mozzarella, and fresh oregano, which is the recipe I’ve illustrated here. Scrumptious!
Making calzone is not more difficult than making pizza, as long as you work quickly. But it wasn’t quite that simple when I decided to shoot some photos in preparation for this article! So this is a funny anecdote about the first calzone I set about making for this article, and the result!
I work in my kitchen as opposed to a special studio, and do all the preparation, cooking, styling and photography myself, using no flashes. This means it can take some time to find the best light and the nicest perspective from which to shoot each sequence of steps. It took several minutes to shoot the filling on the dough in the available light. Folding over the pizza dough to enclose the filling, sealing it and studding the edge with fresh rosemary sprigs, then brushing the top with garlicky olive oil (for extra flavour in the crust), took several more minutes. Once ready for the oven, taking pictures of the finished calzone took still more time!
Now, when I’m preparing dishes that involve pastry of some kind (or beaten eggs, egg whites, and other fragile mixtures), since I do everything myself this occasionally creates problems. This is because, as you probably know, time is usually of the essence when baking or making pastry! I also mentioned above how thinly I like to roll my pizza and calzone dough ~ well, I’m sure you can guess some of what happened next! I attempted to lift the calzone off the surface on which I’d rolled the dough and filled it, and it completely fell apart so that I was left holding handfuls of dough mixed with filling!
I have to admit that the whole episode was rather funny, and my sweetheart and I stared at each other and just started laughing. But I didn’t want to lose all this hard work and delicious ingredients! So I took the handful of dough and garlicky spinach cheese prosciutto filling, placed it on the baking parchment-lined baking sheet in a little heap, and continued making little mounds the size of mandarins, until I’d used up the dough and some of the filling (using about 1/3 filling and 2/3 dough for each ball, and minimal manipulation). The result baked up into tender and very flavourful mini buns with a more delicate texture than fresh ciabatta, due to the vegetable and cheese filling roughly woven into the dough! Absolutely delicious ~ so much so that we quickly devoured them warm from the oven and I forgot to take photos ~ but I’ll be making them again :-}
First, a little note about making the dough. I prefer to use half durum wheat semolina flour and half bread flour when making pizza dough because it creates a wonderfully textured crust. However,if you only have plain flour on hand, the recipe will still be delicious. Just make sure to knead it well. No matter which flour you use, bear in mind that many factors affect the capacity for flour to absorb water. Don’t hesitate to adjust the water or flour quantities as required, a little at a time. What you want to achieve is a dough that’s quite soft but doesn’t stick to your hands. If you add too much flour, the dough will be dense ~ you need more moisture to create a light dough! Knowing whether you need a little more water or flour will come naturally after making pizza dough several times.
This recipe makes one calzone which serves 6 as a main course, with enough dough left over for a second calzone or a pizza. You will need a baking sheet that’s at least 40 cm wide.
Start by preparing the spinach filling below, then prepare the dough.
|30 ml||Olive oil|
|5||Garlic cloves||Finely chopped.|
|1/2||Dried red chilli||Crumbled.|
|1 ml||Ground nutmeg||Preferably freshly grated.|
|500 g||Fresh spinach||You can use frozen spinach – cook it a little less than suggested on the package, and allow to drain well (otherwise, your calzone will either tear or be soggy!)|
|Sea salt & freshly ground pepper|
|300 ml||Warm water (38C)|
|15 g||Honey||I like to use manuka honey, but any honey will do. You can also use sugar.|
|11 g||Traditional, active dry yeast||Note: 11 g active dry yeast equals 7.5 ml|
|30 ml||Olive oil|
|250 g||Strong, white (bread) flour||Or use Italian “00″ flour.|
|250 g||Durum semolina flour|
|15 g||Sea salt|
|398 ml tin||Pitted black olives||Drain and coarsely chop (about 250 ml).|
|50 g||Prosciutto||Tear slices into pieces.|
|350 g||Fresh mozzarella||Cut into small cubes.|
|30 ml||Olive oil|
|2||Garlic cloves||Finely chop and add to the oil.|
|3||Large sprigs of fresh rosemary||Cut each stem into pieces so that each piece has a small tuft of rosemary on a piece of stem.|
|2.5 ml||Sea salt crystals or fleur de sel|
You’ll need to work quickly here so that the dough doesn’t get soggy, therefore make sure you have all the ingredients prepared as mentioned above! For the steps marked with an “*” below, refer to the images above.