Thursday, February 12, 2009

Calzones with Roast Beef, Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onions

Growing up, my mom made calzones for almost any occasion: Birthdays, Christmas Eve, Saturday night dinner etc. She'd bake pizza dough filled with layered spinach, lunch meats (like salami, ham and turkey), american cheese and cooked green and red peppers and onions. As a kid, I hated vegetables like most kids, and my sisters and I would pull the peppers and onions out and give them to my mom or dad to eat. Mom made the calzones frequently enough that they now rest in my mind as one of the ultimate comfort foods. This is a little richer than the ones Mom made but just as tasty, I think! I have never been able to master rolling out the dough and wrapping it uniformly around the meats. My mom had a lot more patience and skill than I do and so her calzones always looked pretty and even. My way is a little more haphazard, but it gets the job done and the food into the belly. I use many of the same ingredients mom did, but have changed some of the ingredients to make my own version. This can be served hot for dinner or straight out of the fridge cold as a snack.

I use rare roast beef sliced thin from the deli here. I know a lot of people worry about the safety of using undercooked meats but you're going to be cooking. I think regular roast beef gets too dry during the cooking process. Rare will be cooked well by the time it comes out of the oven, but it will still be juicy and flavorful. Again, just one of my personal preferences.

Blue cheese is very pungent and there are a lot of bad blue cheeses out there. I try to use a good blue like (English) Stilton, (French) Roquefort, or (Italian) Gorgonzola. I've used Danish Blue before but I think it's too sharp and salty. You can smell it when you open the refrigerator and that's too much for me. If you aren't a big blue cheese fan, try the blue cheese crumbles in the deli section of your store. The flavor is a lot more mild than the cheese I mention here (and you don't have to get messy trying to crumble your own!).


1 ball raw pizza dough (found in the bakery or deli area)
1 10 oz box frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3/4 lb rare roast beef, thinly sliced
1-2 oz good blue cheese, crumbled
1 large red bell pepper, roughly chopped
10 oz mushrooms, white button or portobello
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
kosher salt
black pepper
couple tbsp of flour
optional: 1-2 tbsp of cornmeal
*You'll also need a handful of toothpicks

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat the butter and 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat till hot but not smoking. Place the sliced onions in the pan, and give them a quick stir. Cook without stirring for 3-4 minutes. Give another stir and lower heat (hot enough to still cook but low enough so they don't burn!) Cover with a lid and don't touch them for 10 minutes. While the onions are cooking, heat the other tbsp of olive oil in another skillet over medium heat and add the mushrooms and red bell pepper and cook until the mushrooms are brown and the peppers are softened. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper in the last minute or two of cooking and remove to a plate till ready to use. Check the onions and give a stir. They should be browning. Sprinkle generously (not heavily though!) with salt. The salt will help draw out the rest of their moisture and aid the caramelizing process. You do NOT need to add sugar to caramelize onions. Cook for 5-10 more minutes, stirring occasionally and keep covered.

While the onions are finishing up, sprinkle a clean surface with a little flour. Rub flour onto a rolling pin and roll out your dough into a rectangle. It should be just slightly smaller than the cookie sheet you will put the calzone on. If you're like me, you will have great difficulty getting the dough to remain in the shape you want it to (suggestions anyone?). If you are using cornmeal, sprinkle it lightly on the cookie sheet and put the dough rectangle on top. The cornmeal prevents the dough from sticking to the pan. (I always wondered what that gritty stuff on the bottom of your pizza was. It's cornmeal!) Stretch the dough to fit the pan as much as you can and then evenly distribute the spinach down the center of the dough (see picture). Next, layer the roast beef down the center, overlapping until you've used all the roast beef. Evenly distribute the blue cheese down the center, use your (clean of course!) hands to break it up if you are not using crumbles. And last, pile the vegetables down the middle. You'll have a ton of veggies and they will spill all over the sides. It's not a big deal.

Here's the part, that, try as I might, I can't get right. I'm afraid I am dough-challenged. If you're normal and can work with dough properly, tuck in the head and foot flap of dough over the mound of ingredients and then fold the left side of the dough on top, then fold over the right (sort of like closing a box lid), stretching the dough if you need to. Seal in the center with toothpicks (I end up with 7-9 down the center). If you have troubles, like me, your dough will keep returning to the cookie sheet. So, I pin with toothpicks as I go, pulling left and right sides of dough as if I'm semi-braiding the dough together. Please see pictures and feel free to ask questions. (I know that I'm not explaining this as well as I could!)

Once you've got the whole thing wrapped up and toothpicked, slice vents in the dough every two inches or so, in between your toothpicks and then bake for 20-22 minutes. The calzone will be lightly browned and the dough cooked all the way through when it's ready.

Cool slightly and then cut into pieces by slicing along the vents. 1 calzone serves 4 (about 2 pieces each). You'll find yourself making this again and again.

All text and photographs © 2008, 2009 Food is to love / Andrea Quigley