Calzone is comely, yet divinely rustic. A turnover of pizza dough…stuffed with differing fillings and supple cheeses, folded over and shaped like a half moon before being baked or fried. Squisito!

Not surprisingly, the word is of Italian ancestry — from calzone (the singular for calzoni, “pants”), which is augmentative of calza (“stocking”), from the Medieval Latin word calcea taken from the Latin for “shoe” calceus. The etymology apparently alludes to the folded shape of the dish. The first known use of the word calzone in culinary circles was post WW II (circa 1947). Post modernist fare? Did kitchens, suspicious and tiring of authoritative definitions and singular narratives, create calzones as an antithetical reaction to traditional flat pizza reality?

By the bye, in Italian the word calzone has three syllables, [kalˈtsoːne]. Excuse the inconsolable pander, but please peruse other calzone (or pizza) entries here.

OLIVE & FENNEL CALZONE

Extra virgin olive oil to coat bowl

1 C warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast packet
1 T honey

3+ C all purpose flour
1 t sea salt
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Pour warm water into small bowl; stir in yeast and honey until it dissolves. Let stand until yeast activates and forms foam or bubbles on the surface, about 5 minutes.

Rub large bowl lightly with olive oil. Mix flour and salt in stand up, heavy duty mixer equipped with flat paddle. Add yeast mixture, flour, salt and olive oil; mix on medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Refit mixer with dough hook and process at medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, or transfer to lightly floured surface and knead dough by hand until smooth (or some of both). Kneading does help develop strength and elasticity in the dough. During this step, add more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is too sticky. Work dough with hands into a smooth ball.

Transfer to large oiled bowl, turning dough until fully coated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then a dishtowel and let dough rise in warm draft free area until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes for quick rising yeast and 1 1/2 hours for regular yeast. Punch down dough and work with hands into a smooth ball. Cut and divide into two rounded equal balls.

Preheat oven to 500 F (with pizza stone in oven on lowest rung for no less that 45 minutes before cooking)

3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 large fennel bulb, cleaned, stemmed, cored and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, peeled, halved vertically and thinly sliced
1 t fennel seed, toasted
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 ozs mozzarella, grated
3 T fresh oregano leaves, peeled off stem minced
3 sprigs thyme leaves, peeled off stem, chopped

3 T choice imported black olives, pitted and thinly sliced
4-6 ozs tallegio, thinly sliced

Extra virgin olive oil

Briefly toast the fennel seeds in a dry pan.

Heat olive oil and garlic in a heavy, large skillet over medium high heat. Remove and discard garlic. Add sliced fennel bulb, sliced onion and fennel seed. Season with salt and pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender and caramelized, about 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, place dough on well floured board or large work surface and roll out, starting in center and working outward toward edges but not rolling over them. Roll the dough to roughly 12″ in diameter, but always feel free to create any shape to your liking or whim — so long as it can fold in half for a calzone. Transfer to a pizza paddle which is either covered in cornmeal or heavily floured so it can slide off easily into the oven.

Combine mozzarella, oregano and thyme. Arrange the filling on one half of the dough, leaving a 1″ margin on the edge. Arrange fennel and onion mixture, then olives and finally tallegio slices over the top of the filling. Brush the edges of the dough with water, and fold the dough over to seal, pinching together with fingers.

Bake the calzone, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Calzones tend to take a few more minutes to cook than open pizza. Brush with olive oil immediately after removing from oven. Let rest 5-10 minutes before slicing.

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Fennel & Fertile Figs

November 16, 2011

And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they saw that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.
~The Bible, Genesis 3:7

A moist, cleft, ripe, dehiscent, succulent fruit. Long a sacred symbol of fertility, the common fig (Ficus carica) is a deciduous tree which was first cultivated in the fecund triangle between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in ancient Mesopotamia. From there, figs spread through Asia Minor and Arab lands ultimately making their way to India and China and thence by way of Phoenician and Greek sailors, throughout the Mediterranean basin. The plants were first introduced to the New World, notably the West Indies and South American west coast, by Spanish and Portugese missionaries in the early 16th century. Figs were then imported to Mexico and coursed up to California where Franciscan missionaries planted them in mission gardens.

The word fig first came into English early in the 13th century, from the Norman Old French figue, itself from Vulgar Latin fica, from Latin ficus—still the proper botanical genus name of fig trees. The Latin word is related to the Greek sykon or σῦκον meaning “fig” or “vulva” and the Phoenician pagh “half-ripe fig.”

The fig sign (mano fico) can prove knotty in some social circles. It is made with the hand and fingers curled and the thumb thrust between the middle and index fingers, forming a clenched fist with the thumb partly peering out. Likely of Roman origin, it was displayed as a positive gesture to encourage fertility and ward away evil. Apparently, demons were so repelled by the notion of eroticism and reproduction that they fled at the sign. In a few locales, this hand gesture is still a sign of good luck, but in many others it is considered an obscene, disparaging insult. While the precise reason for this nuancal dichotomy is unknown, many historians posit that this fist depicts female genitalia (fica is Italian slang for “vulva”) and others see an image of sexual union in the making. How could either be thought obscene? Always consider your audience, I suppose.

FENNEL, ONION & FIG PIZZA

Pizza dough (see below)

2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1/2 C yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 t sugar
1 medium fennel bulb, outer leaves removed, cored and thinly sliced
8-10 fresh figs, sliced

Pinch of lemon zest
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 T fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 lb taleggio cheese, rind removed and sliced thinly

Walnuts, coarsely chopped and toasted
Parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside hot oven at least 30 minutes.

In a large, heavy skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Add smashed garlic, stirring, until only light brown. Remove and discard. Then, add sliced onions and sugar and stir occasionally, about 5-6 minutes. Add the sliced fennel, reduce heat to medium low, another 5-6 minutes. Cover and cook gently, stirring often, until the fennel and onion are tender, sweet and beginning to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Uncover, add sliced figs and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Add lemon zest, nutmeg, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Stir together gently and remove from heat.

Roll out dough on a lightly corn mealed or floured surface. Lightly brush with olive oil.

Evenly arrange the taleggio slices on the pizza dough, leaving the border uncovered. Arrange the onion-fennel-fig mixture on top.

Bake the pizza, until just golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, finish with toasted walnuts and immediately garnish with a light drizzle of olive oil and a delicate dose of grated parmigiano reggiano.

Pizza Dough

Extra virgin olive oil to coat bowl

1 C warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast packet
1 T organic honey

3+ C all purpose flour
1 t sea salt
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Pour warm water into small bowl; stir in yeast and honey until it dissolves. Let stand until yeast activates and forms foam or bubbles on the surface, about 5 minutes.

Rub large bowl lightly with olive oil. Mix flour and salt in stand up, heavy duty mixer equipped with flat paddle. Add yeast mixture, flour, salt and olive oil; mix on medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Refit mixer with dough hook and process at medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic—or transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead dough by hand until smooth. Kneading helps develop strength and elasticity in the dough. During this step, add more flour by spoonfuls if dough is too sticky. Work dough with hands into a smooth ball.

Transfer to large oiled bowl, turning dough until fully coated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then a dishtowel and let dough rise in warm draft free area until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes for quick rising yeast and about twice that for regular yeast. Punch down dough and work with hands into a smooth ball. Cut and divide into two rounded equal balls.

Place dough on well floured board or large work surface and roll out, starting in center and working outward toward edges but not rolling over them. Roll the dough to roughly 12 inches in diameter, but always feel free to create any shape to your liking or whim. Transfer to a pizza paddle which is dusted in either cornmeal or flour so it can slide off easily into the oven.

Pourboire: consider crumbling some goat cheese, such as some Bûcheron, over the pie before you slip it into the oven; or bring some sautéed proscuitto into the mix.

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.
~Chief Seattle

Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day—a grassroots celebration of this delicate orb and a call to protect its cherished ecosystems. Since 1970, Earth Day has been an annual observance which reminds everyone of their shared responsibility as environmental stewards. The event, inspired and originally organized by environmental activist and Sen. Gaylord Nelson (WI), is meant for each of us to think globally and act locally to treat our earth with respect and tenderness.  The options for tomorrow’s eco-friendly to dos are nearly endless: go paperless, shower or bathe with friends, plant indigenous trees, calculate your carbon footprint, cook sustainable meals, green your home garden, bike to work, buy reusable bags and green lighting, recycle unusued electronics and household goods, unplug around home, attend a fair or festival, go hiking, write your representatives, talk to your children about their children’s children’s world…reassert yourself and make the changes habits.   

Local farmers’ markets have those delightful spring onions on display now, so what a better way to show your culinary support for this planet. Delicate green topped temptresses plucked from the soil that day.

GRILLED SPRING ONIONS

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 t fresh lemon juice
1 pound spring onions

Prepare charcoal grill to medium high. When spreading the hot coals, allow for a low heat space under the grill  in the kettle, so that the onions my be finished off with a less intense fire.

Rinse the onions thoroughly and trim away any wilted parts and the root tips. Slice the onions in half lengthwise.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Using a basting brush, lightly coat both sides of the onions with the oil mixture.

Put the onions cut side-down on the hotter section of the grill. While basting with the olive oil mixture, cook 3-4 minutes. Then turn the onions and cook until they start to become tender and the sides darken, another 3-4 minutes.

Move the onions to the “cooler” side of the grill and cook until the onions are tender and browned. Cook them for less time to preserve their fresh flavor, or a little longer for more sweetness. Cooking time varies depending on onion size.

PIZZA WITH SPRING ONIONS, MUSHROOMS & BACON

For the Dough:

Extra virgin olive oil to coat bowl

1 C warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast packet
1 T organic honey

3+ C all purpose flour
1 t sea salt
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Pour warm water into small bowl; stir in yeast and honey until it dissolves. Let stand until yeast activates and forms foam or bubbles on the surface, about 5 minutes.

Rub large bowl lightly with olive oil. Mix flour and salt in stand up, heavy duty mixer equipped with flat paddle. Add yeast mixture, flour, salt and olive oil; mix on medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Refit mixer with dough hook and process at medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic—or transfer to lightly floured surface and knead dough by hand until smooth. Kneading helps develop strength and elasticity in the dough. During this step, add more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is too sticky. Work dough with hands into a smooth ball.

Transfer to large oiled bowl, turning dough until fully coated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then a dishtowel and let dough rise in warm draft free area until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes for quick rising yeast and about twice that for regular yeast. Punch down dough and work with hands into a smooth ball. Cut and divide into two rounded equal balls.

Place dough on well floured board or large work surface and roll out, starting in center and working outward toward edges but not rolling over them. Roll the dough to roughly 12 inches in diameter, but always feel free to create any shape to your liking or whim. Transfer to a pizza paddle which is either covered in cornmeal or heavily floured so it can slide off easily into the oven. Lightly brush with olive oil. Then add the toppings below.

For the Topping:

2 bunches spring onions, wilted tops trimmed off, well cleaned and sliced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter

3/4 lb assorted mushrooms, such as porcini, shiitakes, chanterelles or morels, sliced
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
Pinch of dried thyme

1 C high quality slab bacon, cut into lardons, 1/2″ or so

8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high. Add the sliced onions, and reduce heat to low. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until cooked down and nicely caramelized, 35 to 40 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or so more. Season with salt and pepper while cooking. Set aside.

Wipe out the pan with a paper towel. Then, in the same skillet over medium high, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms, cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt, pepper and thyme early during the cooking process. Set aside.

Cook bacon in just a drizzle of olive oil until crisp and lightly browned. Set aside, draining on paper towels.

Roll out pizza dough.  Brush dough with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread mozzarella over dough, leaving the border uncovered. Evenly strew onions, bacon and mushrooms over the mozzarella. Bake the pizza, until browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, immediately garnish with a light drizzle of olive oil and a nice dose of grated parmigiano reggiano.

My youngest son just arrived in southern France (Languedoc-Roussillon) for a mystical summer sojourn in the country. The ancient regional language, Occitan, is still heard in parts of Languedoc. Occitan first began to appear in writing during the 10th century and was used particularly to write the poetry of the troubadours. When France became a unified country in the 15th century, the language of the Parisian court, langue d’oïl, was favored over Occitan and other regional languages, which fell into decline…langue d’oil slowly morphed into modern French.

During the 19th century, Occitan experienced a revival, largely thanks to the efforts of a Provençal literary group called the Félibre which included the Nobel laureate poet and wordsmith, Frédéric Mistral, who worked to standardize written Occitan. Their efforts have been rewarded as today there is one weekly newspaper La Setmana and magazines written entirely in Occitan and some regional newspapers, such as La Dépêche du Midi occasionally publishing columns in Occitan.

The word Languedoc means, literally, the language that uses “oc” which means “yes.” In contrast, “langue d’oïl,” means the language that uses “oïl”—an early form of “oui“—for the affirmative.

My son is particularly pumped, because tomorrow is lunch at his favorite pizza venue where he gets to feast al fresco on some just straightout awesome pie. No doubt some fine jambon et fromage will be visiting the yeasty, crisp dough on his plate. Most pizzerias in France feature a bottle of fiery oil known as pili pili, which is a combination of herbs, hot chili peppers, and oil that has its roots in central Africa. Just wondering whether his table sports a bottle which he can drizzle on a slice…but look forward to finding out soon enough.

Bon appetit ou Bon apetís, mon fils!

PILI PILI

1 fresh, plump garlic clove, peeled and minced finely
3 red chili peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced finely
1 T oregano
2 t crushed red pepper flakes
1 t fennel seeds
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 bay leaves

1-2 C olive oil

Place the first 8 ingredients in a freshly cleansed bottle, then cover with oil. Close securely and let rest for several days. Not only reserved for pizzas, pili pili is delicious on grilled meats and vegetables.

Pizza Di Nuovo

April 20, 2009

The perfect lover is one who turns into a pizza at 4:00 a.m.
~Charles Pierce

CALZONE WITH PROSCUITTO, CHEESES & HERBS

4 ozs goat cheese, crumbled
8 ozs mozzarella, grated
3-4 slices proscuitto, about 1/8″ thick
2 T fresh chives, finely chopped
3 T fresh oregano, minced
3 sprigs thyme leaves, peeled off stem, chopped
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

Extra virgin olive oil

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Cut proscuitto into 2″ long julienne strips. Combine goat cheese, mozzarella, proscuitto, chives, parsley, thyme and garlic cloves, making a thick paste. Arrange the filling on one half of the dough, leaving a 1″ margin on the edge. Fold the dough over to seal, pinching with fingers, much like closing the top and bottom crusts on a fruit pie.

Bake the calzone, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Calzones tend to take a few more minutes to cook than open pizza. Brush with olive oil immediately after removing from oven. Let rest before slicing.

GOAT CHEESE, ROASTED GARLICS & SUNDRIED TOMATOES

6+ plump, fresh roasted garlic cloves, peeled and sliced*
4 ozs goat cheese, crumbled
4 ozs mozzarella, shredded
10 sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil and cut into ribbons

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
1 bunch basil, cut into ribbons

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly brush pizza with the garlic olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread the pizza dough with mozzarella, leaving a 1″ border. Scatter crumbled goat cheese over mozzarella. Strew garlic cloves and sun dried tomatoes over cheeses.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with grated parmigiano reggiano and basil.

*Roasted Garlic

Preheat oven to 400 F

Leaving skin on, cut 2 heads of garlic in half transversely. Place each half in a ramekin, cut side up. Cover with extra virgin olive oil and then foil. Place on a cooking sheet or baking dish and cook until slightly golden, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool. Keep garlic oil for cooking purposes, including brushing on pizzas or calzones in lieu of simple extra virgin olive oil.

TAPENADE, CAPERS & CITRUS ZEST

Tapenade
2 C brine-cured olives, such as Niçoise, pitted
2 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly
2 T capers, drained and rinsed
2 high quality anchovy fillets
1/2 t fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 t Dijon mustard
Dash of brandy or cognac
6 T olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

If the anchovies are salt packed, let them stand in a bowl of milk for 15 minutes to exude the salt. Then, drain thoroughly.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the drained anchovies, olives, capers, mustard, garlic, cognac and thyme. Process in bursts to form a thick paste.

With the processor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until it is thoroughly incorporated. Season with pepper, then allow the tapenade to stand for an hour or so to allow the flavors to marry.

Tapenade
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil

Parmigiano reggiano, grated
2 T capers, well drained
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Zest from 1/2 orange

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly brush pizza with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread the pizza dough with tapenade, leaving a 1″ border. Strew mozzarella over the tapenade.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with capers, citrus zest and then a grating of parmigiano reggiano.

SAUSAGE & CHILI PEPPERS

5-7 chili peppers of varying colors (poblanos, anaheims, jalapeños, serranos), stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/3 lb. fresh Italian sausage, out of casings and crumbled
8 ozs fresh mozzarella or serrano, shredded or thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Large pinch dried thyme

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
Fresh thyme sprigs

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

In a large, heavy skillet, add 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic and sauté chili peppers on medium high heat. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Remove and set aside, discarding garlic. Add sausage and cook until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil and cover with mozzarella, leaving a 1″ border. Arrange sausage and chili peppers atop the mozzarella.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with a grating of parmigiano reggiano and a few fresh thyme sprigs.

PIZZA CON UOVO (EGG)

3 large fresh, organic, free range eggs
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
3-4 slices proscuitto or serrano, very thinly sliced, and then sliced again lengthwise
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Parmigiano reggiano, grated
1-2 T fresh tarragon, chopped

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil and cover with mozzarella, leaving a 1″ border. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove pizza half way through cooking (about 5-6 minutes), arrange proscuitto on cheese and crack eggs on top in an equilateral triangle; sprinkle with pepper and return to the oven to cook through. Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, for a the remaining 5-6 minutes. When cooked, garnish liberally with a grating of parmigiano reggiano and chopped tarragon.

Pizzas (cont’d)

April 16, 2009

Now that the basic dough has been mastered, it is time to assemble. Pizzas and calzones are rather simple creatures once you get the drill. But to reduce any unnecessary anxiety and enhance the pie making experience, it is crucial that the ingredients be prepared in advance with most all mise en place before dressing those yeasty doughs. Having the components neatly arrayed before you in bowls creates a sense of empowerment. Isn’t the kitchen really about controling chaos anyway?

When arranging the toppings, the dough should be rolled out on a pizza paddle which is sprinkled with a thin, but consistent, layer of cornmeal.

Be original, and think seasons, color, harmony, and design—almost feng shui. Please exercise restraint, remembering the cardinal rule that less is best.

Each recipe below uses the basic pizza dough recipe found in the preceding post (Pizza & Calzone Dough), which does not bear repetition.

LEEKS & PANCETTA

3 leeks, most of top trimmed off, well cleaned and sliced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1 C pancetta, cut into lardons, 1/2″ square or so
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
A large pinch dried thyme

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Sweat sliced leeks in olive oil and butter until tender. Season with salt, pepper and thyme while cooking; set aside and cool. Cook pancetta in a drizzle of olive oil until crisp and lightly browned; drain on paper towels. Brush pizza dough with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread mozzarella over dough, leaving the border uncovered. Strew leeks and pancetta over the dough. Bake the pizza, until browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, immediately garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a healthy dose of grated parmigiano reggiano.

PISSALADIERE

Pissaladière, a classic onion marmalade, olive and anchovy pizza has its origins in southern France. This tart derives its name from pissala, a Provençal anchovy paste.

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
3-4 yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 t fresh thyme, minced

10 high quality olive oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained
1/2 C whole Nicoise olives, pitted

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

In a large heavy skillet or sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions, salt, pepper and thyme and lower the heat. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until cooked down and nicely caramelized, 35 to 40 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes more.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil or garlic olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread the onion mixture evenly over the pizza, leaving the border uncovered. Arrange the anchovy fillets in a criss cross or diagonal pattern over the onions. Bake the pizza, until browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with olives, a drizzle of olive oil and a grating of parmigiano reggiano.

PIZZA MARGHERITA

3 C chopped fresh tomatoes, seeded, coarsely chopped and well drained
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
Sea salt
12 fresh basil leaves, shredded (chiffonade)

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano
Whole basil leaves

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread tomatoes uniformly over the pizza dough, leaving the border uncovered. Distribute mozzarella evenly over the surface of the tomatoes. Lightly salt, then strew basil over the mozzarella. Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a grating of parmigiano reggiano and ribbons of basil leaves for color.

*Chiffonade: stack 4 or 5 basil leaves flat on top of one other. Roll the leaves tightly. Cut thinly with a very sharp knife which will create ribbons.

MUSHROOM

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1/3 C ruby port
1 T fresh thyme leaves, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 lbs assorted mushrooms, such as porcini, shiitakes, chanterelles or morels, sliced
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, grated
4 paper thin slices of proscuitto or serrano, then sliced again lengthwise (optional)

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
Several sprigs of fresh thyme

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

In a heavy skillet over medium high, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms, port and thyme and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper during the cooking process. Set aside. Brush pizza dough with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Strew mozzarella evenly over pizza dough, leaving an uncovered border. Distribute mushroom mixture evenly over the top of the mozzarella.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a grating of parmigiano reggiano and some thyme sprigs for effect.

Pizza & Calzone Dough

April 14, 2009

You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.
~Yogi Berra

Pizza has a lengthy and storied career despite its lack of a precise birthplace or fixed home of origin…an eternal, jiving gypsy of foods.

Tracing the history of pizza can prove tortuous. Any number of cultures or peoples who mastered the art of heating a mixture of flour and water on a stone could rightly stake claim to inventing these sumptuous edible tables. I will offer an abbreviated, anecdotal (far from academic) version. Chronologically precise? Doubtfully.

Evidence of flat breads have been found at prehistoric archeological digs. Breads we now call focaccia may date back as far as the ancient Etruscans. Focaccia literally means “flat bread,” from the Latin root focacius, meaning hearth.

Ancient Egyptians celebrated the Pharaoh’s birthday with a flat bread seasoned with herbs; and early historians such as Herodotus, described centuries old Babylonian recipes that bear resemblances to contemporary pizza crust. The ancient Greeks baked round flat breads annointed with oil, herbs, spices and dates which they called plankous or plankuntos. During lengthy marches, soldiers of the Persian king Darius the Great were known to bake a form of flat bread covered with cheese and dates upon their shields. In the epic Aeneid, the classical Roman poet Virgil alluded to the practice of using bread as an edible platter for other foods: “…we devour the plates on which we fed.”

So, a loose thread has developed that pizza gradually evolved from the ancient flatbreads relished by varying cultures in the Mediterranean rim. However, little debate exists that Italy took pizza to today’s level.

Pizza adopted its more current form in pre-Renaissance Naples, where impoverished peasants used limited ingredients (wheat flour, olive oil, lard, cheese and natural herbs) to make a seasoned, garnished flat bread. Later, tomatoes were brought to Europe from Peru and Mexico of the New World. Tomatoes were originally believed to be toxic; fortunately, the poorer denizens of Naples mustered the courage to add this once strictly ornamental pomidori to the crusty dough, creating the first basic tomato pizza.

In the late 18th century, Naples bustled and street vendors bought pizzas from small stands and sold them in slices from lidded metal boxes or narrow boards. A pizza delivered to King Ferninando I and Queen Maria Carolina was said to be so well received that the king had a red tiled pizza oven built at the royal palace.

In 1889, King Umberto I of Italy, and his wife, Queen Margherita were touring Naples. They asked to sample the fare of the most celebrated of the current pizzaiolis, Raffaele Esposito, even though partaking of such peasant fare was thought unseemly for royalty. Not wishing to disappoint, he prepared several pizzas, one of which was patriotically dressed with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes (the tricolors of the Italian flag)…dedicated to the Queen and coined “Pizza Margherita.”

Pizza migrated to America with Italians in the latter half of the 19th century, but did not achieve broad notoriety until after World War II, when servicemen stationed overseas returned to the states craving these newly discovered exotic pies.

The actual word “pizza” may be a derivative of the Latin word picea, a word which Romans used to describe the blackening of bread in an oven. Others assert that the word pizza is rooted in an Old Italian word meaning “a point,” which in turn became the Italian word pizzicare, which means “to pinch or pluck.”

Do not be deluded into thinking that pizza is some complicated dish unworthy of your efforts or too banal for your guests. You can make divine homemade pizzas with little outlay of time or capital.  All that is needed is to craft dough (flour, water, yeast, salt and honey) watch the ball rise, lightly scatter (even underload) with toppings, slide into a very hot oven with a paddle onto an already well-heated stone or steel and cook briefly.  You can riff on classics far and wide too.

Pizza is not only sublimely delicious — strewn with a small bevy of fresh ingredients, it is a visual feast.

PIZZA DOUGH

Extra virgin olive oil to coat bowl

1 C warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast packet
1 T organic honey

3+ C all purpose flour
1 t sea salt
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Pour warm water into small bowl; stir in yeast and honey until it dissolves. Let stand until yeast activates and forms foam or bubbles on the surface, about 5 minutes.

Rub large bowl lightly with olive oil. Mix flour and salt in stand up, heavy duty mixer equipped with flat paddle. Add yeast mixture, flour, salt and olive oil; mix on medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Refit mixer with dough hook and process at medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic—or transfer to lightly floured surface and knead dough by hand until smooth. Kneading helps develop strength and elasticity in the dough. During this step, add more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is too sticky. Work dough with hands into a smooth ball.

Transfer to large oiled bowl, turning dough until fully coated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then a dishtowel and let dough rise in warm draft free area until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes for quick rising yeast and 1 1/2 hours for regular yeast. Punch down dough and work with hands into a smooth ball. Cut and divide into two rounded equal balls and let rest, sometimes overnight.

Place dough on well floured board or large work surface and roll out, starting in center and working outward toward edges but not rolling over them. Roll the dough to roughly 12 inches in diameter, but always feel free to create any shape to your liking or whim. Transfer to a pizza paddle which is either covered in cornmeal or heavily floured so it can slide off easily into the oven. Lightly brush with olive oil. Then add the toppings, which were chopped, cut, prepared and/or cooked in advance.

A word to the wise—do not overburden pizzas with toppings; rather, try to maintain balance and integrity, always allowing the crust to play a central role in the tasting theater. Too often pizzas are heavily laden with a plethora of ingredients that bury the crust and offer little to the savory character of these rustic delights. So, please use a light hand and err on the side of less vs. more.

With calzone, follow the dough procedure described above; but, once rolled out add toppings only to half of the dough circle, leaving a 1″ border around the half circle. Moisten the edge with water and fold the uncovered side over the filled half. Press the edges of the dough together to seal. Calzones usually take a couple minutes longer to cook. Lightly brush the top with olive oil right after the calzone is removed from the oven.

On cooking pizza: The ideal environment is directly on the tile floor of an intensely hot wood fired or stone oven. As most home kitchens are accoutered with a simple gas or electric oven, we have to accomodate. So, either use a thick, heavy pizza stone or place a layer of unglazed ceramic tiles in the bottom rack of the oven. Crank up the dial to 500 F for a sufficient time to assure that both the stone and oven are fiercely hot.

Gently shake the paddle attired with the already topped dough to make sure the pizza is loose enough to slide onto the hot stone. With a flip of the wrist, slowly slide the pizza from the paddle onto the stone and cook until slightly browned and crisp, about 10-12 minutes. Once removed, immediately grate fresh parmiggiano-reggiano on top. Slice and serve.

No need to worry, readers. Pizzas are a revered food at this table, so topping recipes will follow on the next post and later throughout the blog.

Pourboire: Some fine pizza crafters suggest that once the early kneading is complete, and the dough is divided, you should turn out each piece on a floured surface, folding and kneading each about four times until it forms a smooth ball. Then, set each ball in a lidded glass or plastic bin large enough to allow it to double in size. Settle a sheet of plastic wrap over the dough, then cover with the lid. Refrigerate for 24-48 hours before shaping and baking. This prolonged fermentation not only develops the dough’s structure, it also enables starches to transform into sapid sugars—resulting in a svelte, airier crust.