We love making our own pizzas at our house. Good pizza was hard to come by in Beijing, with one or two exceptions, and even then, it was really a splurge for us. There was no reason at all we couldn’t make our own, for much less money, with better results, and without waiting for someone to deliver a cold pizza to the house.

But truth be told, I don’t really like pizza all that much. It’s greasy on top when the mozzarella melts and the grease from the sausage or pepperoni renders. Having to look at the grease on the top of the pizza always turned me off of it a little, even though the taste was fantastic. The solution? Fold the pizza in half so you don’t have to look at the grease!

Calzone topped with a little parmesan cheese

That’s essentially all a calzone is: a pizza folded in half, without sauce on the inside. You can add sauce inside your calzone, but then it’s called a stromboli. Still good, just different. I’m always afraid of biting into something like that and having the sauce squirt out the other side, so dipping my calzone in a sauce makes me much happier.

As I was assembling these calzones, my ayi (the Chinese woman who comes to help me clean the house) commented that they looked like giant dumplings, and she wondered if you couldn’t make a Chinese version of a baked dumpling. They’re normally steamed or pan fried, but she wanted to learn to bake them too, so we had a make-shift calzone lesson in the middle of the afternoon.

I got the inspiration for these calzones from the Not Martha blog, here. Spinach and sausage are two of my favorite flavors on a pizza, so I chose to go with those, but I couldn’t resist adding in some mushrooms too.

Ricotta Calzones with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Spinach
adapted from Baking Illustrated

makes four big calzones, which are two servings each

Ingredients
For the dough
4 cups (22 ounces) bread flour
1 envelope (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast (rapid rise counts here)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon warm water (about 110 degrees)

For the filling
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
8 ounces (2 cups) mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 1/2 ounces (about 3/4 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
8 ounces Italian sausage, hot or sweet (I recommend hot)
12 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
3 medium garlic cloves, about 1 tablespoon, minced or put through a press
1/4 teaspoon red hot pepper flakes
extra-virgin olive oil for brushing on the shaped calzones
Sea salt for sprinkling the calzones

Preparation

1. Make dough.  Whisk flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Use the dough hook, turn the mixer to medium-low and add the olive oil, then gradually add the water. Mix until a smooth, elastic dough comes together, about 10 minutes. Drizzle a little olive oil around a bowl, form the dough into a ball, place it in the bowl, turn the dough over a few times and cover the bowl with a hot wet kitchen towel.  Let the dough rise in a warm spot until it’s doubled in size. For me, this took only an hour.

2. Make the filling. Combine cheeses, egg yolk, oregano, salt and black pepper in a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

3. Remove casing from Italian sausage. Cook sausage in a large skillet until brown, breaking into 1/2 inch chunks, about 4 minutes. Stir in minced garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant. Sautee the mushrooms, and then stir in the thawed  spinach, 1 tablespoon water and 1/8 tablespoon salt. Cook stirring constantly until the spinach is well heated all the way through. Transfer mixture to paper towel lined plate so it will absorb extra moisture.  Set aside to cool to room temperature while the pizza dough is continuing to rise.

4. Set oven to 500 degrees, allow to preheat for 30 minutes.  Use a pizza stone if you have one, set rack to lowest position. (I of course have no pizza stone, though I would love one. You can use them for everything. Instead, I used a regular old cookie sheet. And I set my oven to 150C, but then again we all know that means nothing.)

5. Prepare to fill. Divide risen dough onto unfloured surface and divide into four pieces. Shape into balls and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.

6. Cut four squares of wax paper, and roll out each dough ball into a 12 inch round, stacking them one on top of the other, separating with the wax paper.   Grab a dough rounds still on it’s square and prepare to fill. Put down 1/4th  of the ricotta mixture on half the round, put 1/4th of the spinach mixture on top, and then 1/4th of the sausage on top of that. Fold the round in half, twist the edges together nicely. Trim the excess wax paper from around the edges of the calzone. Brush the tops with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and score the tops to make a few vents.

8. Slide the calzones and their wax paper onto the pizza stone or IKEA baking sheet as thecase may be. Bake until the calzones are golden brown, about 11 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, 5 minutes.

Spinach Calzone served with Arrabiata Sauce

9. Serve with a sauce that will stand up to your calzone. I prefer something spicy for this sort of dish, so I served with an Arrabiata sauce.

Walker and I split one very comfortably for dinner for the two of us. The other three I flash baked, and froze. Over the next month, we pulled out a calzone whenever we wanted and let it finish baking in the oven before tearing into it. It’s an easy dish to prepare in a big batch and save yourself some time during the week!

Variations

Anything you can put on a pizza, you can put in your calzones. If you’re looking to branch out a bit, you can make these into miniature calzones and fill them with your favorite sandwich meats and cheeses, and pack them for lunches. They’re homemade hot pockets!

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