It’s a scary and exciting thing when your ideas about love and friendship start shifting. It starts with a conversation between friends, a few questions here, some not-so-subtle answers there. The imagined boundaries between friendship and romance start to dissolve. Love deepens, intensifying the connection and making you wonder what took so long. All along, there is an on-going dialogue about what all of this means and how can a friendship bridge the 600-mile gap between lovers.
When Matt comes to visit these days, it is as if he never left. There’s no pretense, no awkwardness, no uncertainty. The love I feel for him is warm and comfortable. It’s easy being with him. I don’t even mind him complaining regularly about how damn cold Chicago is because his willingness to be here is enough. Complain all you want, my heat-loving friend! I’ll bake scones and we’ll drink tea together.
It’s nice to know that even as life speeds forward, it is possible to pause and say hello, take walks, hold hands, and linger over each meal together. Whenever friends ask about Matt’s visits, I’m afraid they sound terribly boring: “Oh, you know, we talked and cooked. We sat around and went for walks. He graded papers while I washed dishes. It was quite lovely.” And that’s the truth: his visits are always lovely. We aren’t frantically rushing around, trying to do things. We just settle into our friendship and reconnect. It’s wonderful.
Our bellies think it’s wonderful, too. I have always loved cooking for Matt; he has a way of appreciating food and my efforts to feed him that brings out the best in me. It’s only recently, however, that I have come to appreciate that cooking with him is just as much fun as cooking for him. During his most recent visit this past weekend, we ate so many delicious things that I can hardly believe he was only here for a handful of days. His lemony, garlicky, crunchy sauteed kale and my lemony stew filled with carrots, potatoes, artichoke hearts, and white beans. Fluffy-crumbed scones topped with a sweet cap of glaze. Endless cups of tea. But the crowning glory of this visit was, without a doubt, Matt’s calzones.
Calzones, he informed me, are vehicles for massive cheese consumption. Highly skeptical of my idea of filling pizza dough with vegetables and calling it a calzone, Matt quickly convinced me that he should be the head chef of our calzone project and I should be his assistant. I daresay, it might be the best decision I have ever made. These calzones were top-notch. Thick, chewy, homemade pizza crust gently surrounded an eclectic, delicious combination of ingredients. Silky, sweetly caramelized onions. Salty Kalamata olives. Tender artichoke hearts. And three, count ‘em, THREE different kinds of cheese! Shredded Fontina. Sweet, fresh mozzarella. Creamy ricotta. Every bite of these calzones was unique: an olive here, a dollop of ricotta there, slivers of onion mixed with tangy Fontina and meltingly soft artichokes. Matt and I oohed and aahed over them, pleasantly smug at our off-the-cuff collaboration in the kitchen.
In a week, for the first time ever, I will be visiting him on his home turf. I’m hopeful he’ll put me to work in his kitchen so we can continue our successful collaborations. Or, at the very least, he won’t mind if I hover at his side while he chops, stirs, and eats caramelized onions straight out of the pot.
To share Matt’s recipe for calzones with you, I’ve broken it down into two parts: making the dough and prepping the calzones after you’ve got the dough going. This recipe is pretty loose on purpose; Matt cooks a lot by feel and he eats half the ingredients while cooking to make sure he really knows what he’s mixing together. My guess is that as long as you don’t go too heavy on the flavor-loaded olives and Fontina cheese while assembling these babies, then you will end up with delightful calzones. We ate them with a side salad of baby spinach and fresh strawberries, washed everything down with glasses of red wine, and patted our bellies with satisfaction.
Pizza Dough for Calzones and Other Good Things
Adapted from “Pizzettas” in Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven
Makes enough dough for four large calzones or two pizzas
1 c. lukewarm water (should feel neither warm nor cool; yeast does best in water that’s about the same temperature as your body)
2 tsp. active dry yeast
A pinch of sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. mild vegetable oil, such as canola
½ c. whole wheat flour
3-4 c. unbleached all-purpose white flour (you may not need a full 4 cups here)
1) Pour the water into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Sprinkle the yeast into the water, add the sugar, and stir to dissolve everything. Let this mixture stand for about 5 minutes.
2) Into the yeast, stir in the whole-wheat flour and ½ cup of the all-purpose flour along with the salt and oil. Beat this mixture for about 5 minutes with a spoon. If you pause for a moment here, you should see little bubbles coming up through the mixture; bubbles mean your yeast are alive! Hurray!
3) Begin adding the remaining flour, ½ cup at a time. Mix thoroughly between each addtion. You will start to feel the dough go from liquid to solid. As the dough becomes too thick to stir, scrape it out of the bowl and onto a floured surface like a countertop. Begin kneading the dough, adding flour as necessary to keep it from becoming a sticky mess in your hands. The goal is to add just enough flour to make a knead-able dough without making the dough dry or tough. It should be a bit sticky but not so sticky as to be impossible to handle with your hands. I like to knead the dough for a few minutes once I’m done adding flour, as I consider dough-kneading one of the principle pleasures of working with yeast.
4) Once the dough is kneaded, spray a clean bowl with a bit of cooking spray. Gather the dough up into a ball, place it in the bowl, and drape a clean dishtowel over the bowl and let it sit in a warm place for about an hour. The dough should rise nicely during this time, roughly doubling in size.
5) Dust your fist with a bit of flour and punch down the dough. For calzones, divide it into four equal pieces. For pizzas, divide it into two equal pieces. Knead each piece for a few minutes, loosely form the pieces into balls, and let the dough rest for about ten minutes. This rest will make it easier to stretch the dough into the right shape. Prep the dough as desired for your recipe. Instructions for calzone-assembly are given in the recipe below.
1 recipe Pizza Dough for Calzones and Other Good Things (above)
1 perfect yellow onion
Olive oil (roughly 1-4 tbsp.)
1 14.5-oz. can artichoke hearts
Handful of best-quality Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped into small pieces
Shredded Fontina cheese, to taste
Small slices of fresh mozzarella, to taste
Ricotta cheese, to taste
Spicy Italian seasoning, such as Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Pizzaz from The Spice House in Evanston, IL, to taste
Marinara sauce to taste (out of a can or a jar; pick your favorite flavor)
1) Get the pizza dough going first. It will need to rise for about an hour, which gives you plenty of time for the next step: caramelizing the onions!
2) Chop the onion in half, remove the ends, and then chop the remainder into ¼-inch slices. Discard the tiny pieces from the center, or core, of the onion, as these pieces will end up burning rather than caramelizing during the cooking. Into a large pot (preferably not non-stick), pour enough oil to coat the bottom and heat the pot over medium heat. Add some of the onions to this pot, tossing them in oil. Add more onions and toss, adding more oil as needed to make sure the onions are well-coated. Repeat adding onions and oil until everything is in the pot and cooking. Cook for a few minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently and checking to make sure the onions are well-coated in oil and not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat down to medium low or low and cook the onions for 30-60 minutes, depending on how much time you have. Stir them frequently (Matt recommends every minute or so), scraping up the tasty bits on the bottom.
3) While the onions are going, drain the artichoke hearts. Chop them in half, removing any rough, unappetizing outer layers. Place them in a bowl. Place the rest of the ingredients in individual bowls to make assembling the calzones easy. Feel free to sample any and all of your ingredients as a quality-control measure.
4) Once the onions and the pizza dough are ready, you are ready to assemble the calzones. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a large baking sheet lightly with cooking spray. Taking one piece of dough, place it on a clean, lightly floured surface and use a rolling pin or a drinking glass to roll it out into an oval roughly eight inches in length and 4-5 inches wide. Place the oval on the prepped baking sheet. On one half of the oval, fill the calzone by layering some caramelized onions, a few pieces of artichoke, a scattering of olives, a few sprinkles of Fontina, a few slices of mozzarella, and, finally, a dollop or two of ricotta. If your taste in calzones runs toward the cheesy, like Matt’s, use lots of cheese in the filling. Sprinkle Italian seasoning on the unfilled side of the calzone and fold it over the filled half to form a half-moon shape. Use your fingers to pinch the calzone shut. Repeat this calzone-assembly process with the remaining three pieces of dough to make four filled calzones, giving the calzones plenty of space on the baking sheet. Use a spoon to drizzle olive oil on the top of the calzones, smoothing it over the dough with the back of the spoon. Sprinkle a little more Italian seasoning on top if you like.
5) Bake the calzones at 400 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, or until the dough is nicely golden brown on the outside. I find that 15 minutes is a little underdone for my taste, but 20 minutes might be too much. So take a peak after 15 minutes; if the dough is looking fairly pale, give it another few minutes, checking frequently.
6) Serve hot from the oven, passing around the marinara sauce at the table for dipping. Since the calzones will be piping hot, it’s nice to have the marinara sauce at room temperature to make each bite of calzone just cool enough to eat.