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Focacce and Calzoni: More Wonders from the Pizza Oven!

There’s more to Italian neighborhood pizzerie than just pizza: focacce and calzoni are important parts of the picture too. The focaccia is a pizza crust, rolled out and popped into the oven; toppings are added when it emerges and tend to be fairly simple. The calzone, or trouser leg, is a pizza crust rolled out and topped with all the ingredients of a normal pizza except tomato, then folded over to a half-moon shape; the tomato sauce is sprinkled over it and it then goes into the oven, to be lightly drizzled with olive oil upon its emergence.

This, at least, is what happens in Italy. I’ve seen fried calzoni in New York, though I’ve never worked up the courage to try one. In the United States, and perhaps elsewhere, there are also things called stromboli, which are similar to a calzone, but with the cheese outside rather than the tomato (at least the one I tried).

To make a calzone or focaccia the first step is preparing the dough. You can use a prepared mix (some are quite good), but starting from scratch isn’t that difficult. For 2 12-inch crusts:

  • 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 1 1/3 cups warm (105-115 F, or 42-45 C) water
  • 3 1/2 -3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • A healthy pinch of salt

Begin by dissolving the yeast in the water, in a large mixing bowl; let it stand for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix, either by hand or with a mixer set to low speed, until the ingredients are blended. Now hand-knead the dough or mix it with a dough hook setting the speed to low for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Coat the insides of another bowl with olive oil and turn the dough in it to coat it too, then cover with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place to rise for an hour, or until it doubles in volume.

For the baking, if you have a wood-fired pizza oven, fire it up. If you are instead using your kitchen oven, preheat it to 475 F (250 C); if you are using a baking stone it should heat for at least 45 minutes. Otherwise grease and dust two flat baking tins with corn meal. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a ball and let them sit for 15 minutes. Then shape them into disks, stretching them out from the center on a floured surface. Do not roll them, because rolling toughens the dough.

If you're using a baking stone and have a baker's peel (a thin metal disk with a handle), lightly flour it, slide the focaccia or calzone onto it, and transfer it to the stone with a deft yank -- the flour will keep the dough from sticking. If you don't have a peel, use a flat cookie sheet instead, lightly flouring it, to transfer the food from the work surface to the stone.

If you're using a metal baking pan you should bake your calzone or focaccia towards the bottom of the oven. In a recent post to Rec.Foods.Cooking Karen suggested baking on the bottom rack for about 4 minutes, or until the food is firm enough to slide off the pan, and then slide it from the pan straight onto the rack to finish cooking.

The focaccia will in any case be done when the crust is browned; this takes 3 minutes in a wood-fired oven and about 10-15 at home. A calzone will take about 15 minutes to bake; don’t be surprised if it swells considerably; children in Italian pizzerie take perverse delight in puncturing each others’ calzoni to let the steam escape.

Focaccia toppings are generally quite simple. Perhaps the most common one is sliced fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced prosciutto (the raw variety, not cooked ham), and shredded arugola (rucola in Tuscany). The color combination is quite pretty, and the flavors meld very well. Other common toppings include straight prosciutto (not ham), just tomatoes, or tomatoes and thinly sliced mozzarella. Olive oil is served at the table so the diner can drizzle some to taste.

There’s a bit more variety to calzone fillings.

Basic Calzone:
2-3 ounces finely sliced cooked ham, shredded, 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, and 1/4 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes. Sprinkle the shredded ham and cheese over half the disk, fold it over to cover the topping, and crimp the edges. Spread the tomato sauce on top of it, and bake.
As a variation, you can add 1/2 cup thinly sliced mushrooms. Or, you can make a calzone Bismarck by cracking an egg into the calzone before you fold over the crust.
Calzone Farcito: Everything in the house.
Farcito means stuffed, which this calzone certainly is. It’s the equivalent of the Pizza Capricciosa, and every pizzaiolo has his version. This is based on the Pizzaria Giancarlo, outside Florence's Porta San Frediano. 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, 1 finely sliced hot dog, 1 link sweet Italian sausage (about 2 inches long), skinned and shredded, 8 thin slices salamino piccante (pepperoni in the anglo-saxon world) 2 ounces thinly sliced ham, shredded, 2 canned artichoke hearts, quartered, 1/4 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes. Sprinkle the ingredients except the tomato sauce over half the disk, fold it over to cover the topping, and crimp the edges. Spread the tomato sauce on top of it, and bake.
Calzone ai Quattro Formaggi: A Cheesy Wonder!
1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, 1/3 cup (each) shredded pecorino, gorgonzola, groviera (Swiss Cheese), and fontina or asiago, one black olive, 1/4 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes. Sprinkle the ingredients except the tomato sauce over half the disk, fold it over to cover the topping, and crimp the edges. Spread the tomato sauce on top of it, and bake.

As is the case with pizza toppings, the sky is the limit when it comes to fillings. Feel free to experiment (for example, a few salted capers, rinsed, tossed into the basic calzone), though you should keep in mind that too many ingredients can interfere with each other.

Winding down, a variation on the theme that's popular in the Sabina area during Carnival, Pizza Sfogliata con Salsiccia e Pancetta: A sheet of dough, covered with sausage and pancetta, rolled up, coiled, and baked: Who could ask for more?

To drink? A light zesty red wine, for example a Chianti d'annata, or a Valpolicella Classico, or something even zestier, for example Lambrusco (I especially like these), or beer.

And afterwords? Tiramisu.

How to use a wood-fired pizza oven.

If you plan to eat in a pizzeria when in Italy, here is some advice on selecting it. And here you will find links to pizza recipes on the Net.

Good Food & Drink,
Kyle Phillips

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Text & photos © Kyle Phillips, who drew from a number of sources, Italian and English.

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