Pizza Pockets

FullSizeRenderCan’t beat the draw of fresh, savory bread, filled with hot pepperoni and gooey melted cheese. Since we’re not Italian, I feel we can’t call these calzones, so they’ve been dubbed “pizza pockets” in our house. And as the definition of a calzone is “an Italian oven-baked folded pizza,” our name works perfectly well. 

It all started with a magazine recipe clipping for “mini French loaves” that sounded more Italian than French in their ingredient listing, and a house full of teenage boys who were bottomless pits. I’d made this dough into buns for dinner, and the guys said, “Hey, this kind of tastes like pizza!” So I decided to make it more like pizza by stuffing it with pepperoni and a mix of cheeses, and then dipping the pizza pockets into purchased marinara sauce. A star was born. (Then I found out that Calzones were a “thing” and I wasn’t the genius I thought I was…oh well. Not the first time!)

I’d not made these for years, and then my son Justin was reminiscing about this dish to his lovely fiancé Ashley. So of course I had to make them for her… She loved them as much as the guys always have, which means she passed the test—welcome to the fam, Ash! 

Now, I have to mention, I’ve tried filling these with a variety of things over the years: sausage and mushroom, green peppers and Canadian bacon and pineapple, etc. But nothing seems to work out as well as the plain old pepperoni and cheese. When something works, sometimes you just have to leave it alone and enjoy the simplicity of it.

Makes 8 pizza pockets

Dough
1¼ cups warm water
2½ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (Kraft is fine, doesn’t need to be all fancy!)
3 to 3½ cups all-purpose flour

Filling
Package of pepperoni slices
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

For Dipping
Jar of purchased Marinara sauce (My pick is Trader Joe’s as it’s about $1.79 per jar and doesn’t use corn syrupn.)

Dissolve yeast in water in large mixing bowl, letting rise until yeast begins to foam on top. Fit mixer with dough hook. Add sugar, seasonings, 2 cups flour, and Parmesan cheese, and beat until all ingredients are combined. Add flour ½ cup at a time and mix on low setting to form a soft dough. Note that you may not need all of the remaining 1½ cups of flour. Only add flour until dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Grease a clean bowl with shortening, and place dough into bowl, turning once to grease top of dough. Cover with damp kitchen towel and let rise in warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in size.

Grease a baking sheet with olive oil, and sprinkle pan with a light dusting of cornmeal. Punch dough down, and divide into 8 equal-sized pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Roll out into an oval disk using rolling pin. Place about 6 pieces of pepperoni on one half of the disk, in a pyramid of 3 pieces, 2 pieces, and 1 piece. Top with a handful of grated cheeses, then fold empty half of dough over the side filled with pepperoni and cheese. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges of the dough. Move pizza pocket to greased pan. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Let dough rise in warm place for 30-45 minutes, or until almost doubled in size. (I like to fill my sink with hot water, then top the sink with an oven rack, and place pan on rack. This creates nice humid conditions for rising dough.) Once dough is risen, bake in preheated oven on center rack for 12-15 minutes, or until top of bread is light golden brown. Remove to cooling rack for about 10 minutes before serving. Heat marinara sauce in saucepan for a few minutes. Serve pizza pockets with a small ramekin of Marinara sauce for dipping as you eat.

Asparagus and Pea Spring Salad

FullSizeRenderIt doesn’t get any fresher than this springy salad featuring asparagus, peas, and spinach. I first tried the Asparagus Ribbon Salad (from Better Homes & Gardens April 2017 issue) for Easter, and our guests all thought it was dee-licious. I made it per instructions the first time, except for the requested arugula, as it’s expensive and I think it has a bitter bite. So I subbed in Bibb lettuce (aka: butter lettuce) and added some spinach—just because I like to add spinach to dishes whenever possible! Good call on the Bibb lettuce, as it was the perfect compliment to the tender asparagus. It was a nice side salad with ham and cheesy scalloped potatoes potatoes (need to post that one), and a refreshing way to serve the green spears, rather than just microwaving and squirting with lemon.

FullSizeRender-2But I thought the long ribbons of asparagus were kind of awkward to eat, and were a total pain in the keister (yet worth it for Easter…) to prepare. Chopping them into 1-2 inch pieces is easier to do, and easier to eat. I also found the vinegar in the BH&G asparagus-pea pesto recipe to be too sharp—asparagus is such a subtle veggie, and I thought lemon might be a better choice for an acid in the pesto. Then because I CANNOT turn my foodie brain off, I thought I’d boil up some eggs and chop some leftover Easter ham on top to make it a whole meal deal. Loved it!!! It was so tantalizing, my co-worker Ben even asked me for the recipe when I brought a salad to work. Or rather, he said, “Hey Kaaren (his wife), you should get that recipe from Cheryl…”

Here you go, Ben (ahem, I mean Kaaren…).

Serves 6-8

For Side Salad
2 bunches asparagus
3 cups frozen peas, divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
½-1 lemon, juiced (¼-½ cup)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ of an English cucumber, sliced into quartered
2 heads Bibb lettuce, cored and chopped
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

For Main Meal Salad
2 cups chopped ham
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 cup grated white sharp cheddar cheese

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add ice. Set aside to us in blanching asparagus. Trim or snap touch ends off asparagus, then chop into 1 or 2-inch pieces. Fill a medium saucepan with water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a full rolling boil. Add fresh asparagus, and cook 2-3 minutes, or until bright green. Using slotted spoon, gradually transfer all the asparagus to the bowl of ice water. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then drain. Rinse the frozen peas under cold water then drain in separate strainer. Dab both asparagus and peas with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Toss asparagus, peas, and cucumber together in a bowl. Set aside.

To make asparagus-pea pesto, combine 1 cup of blanched asparagus, 2 cups of peas, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in food processor and pulse to form paste. Add Parmesan and pulse to combine. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Toss pesto with asparagus, peas, and cucumber until all ingredients are combined.

To assemble salad, spread Bibb lettuce and spinach on large platter, or 6-8 individual salad plates. Top with asparagus mixture for side salad. If making a main meal salad, sprinkle with chopped ham, chopped egg, and grated cheese.

Pesto Chips

IMG_1718Bunches of fresh basil and some other kitchen staples are all you need to make these incredibly fragrant and savory appetizers. These are pretty easy to whip up, yet your kitchen will smell like you’re a seasoned gourmet who’s been slaving at the stove all day. I’ve been making these for years to serve either as appetizers, or as a side to a meal of grilled meat, veggies, and some fruit. When tomatoes aren’t in season, these are great with just the tortillas, pesto, and grated cheese. I often made these sans tomatoes for an after-school snack for my boys. (Hmmmmm. Maybe that’s why they developed rather sophisticated food palettes. They did occasionally get Rice Krispy bars or other more kid-friendly fare…occasionally.)

Farmer’s markets are teaming with fresh basil, parsley, and tomatoes this time of year. I got the most delicious Roma tomatoes this weekend from a little Saturday morning Farmer’s market in West St. Paul (Icy Cup parking lot, 63 George Street, corner of George and Stryker. For more info, visit growingwestside.com/farmers-market/). My friend Sue’s daughter, Nellie (and her new husband Stephen), have a booth there selling organic produce from their farm, Whistling Thistle. The Roma’s I got from them were perfect for these, as they were meaty and had a lower moisture content than standard grocery store ‘maters. That’s essential to keep the chips crispy once baked.

Makes 8 ounces pesto

For pesto:
1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves (washed and rinsed)
½ cup fresh parsley springs (without stems), or ¼ cup dried parsley
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup slivered almonds (or pine nuts)
1 large clove garlic, quartered
¼ teaspoon salt

For chips:
Corn or flour tortillas
Shredded aged mozzarella, or cubed fresh mozzarella
Roma tomatoes, diced

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. In a blender or food processor, combine basil, parsley, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, almonds, garlic, and salt. Cover and blend or process with several on-off turns until paste forms. Stop machine to scrape down sides as needed.

Spread a few tablespoons of pesto over one of the tortillas, and put it on a baking sheet. (Flour tortillas are tastier, but I’ve used corn tortillas to make these gluten free.) Sprinkle cheese of choice on top, then repeat process for desired number of tortillas. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until edges are crispy and slightly browned. Cut into wedges and serve as is, or sprinkle with the diced tomatoes, then cut and serve.

NOTE: If not using the pesto immediately, store in airtight container and refrigerate up to a week, or freeze for 6-12 months.

For another tasty way to use your basil pesto, Check out a previous post with directions for a basil pasta that’s a fabulous meal on it’s own.

Fresh Italian Focaccia

Focaccia BreadNothing beats a wedge of fresh focaccia. Dipped in flavored olive oil and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese, it’s a great accompaniment to any pasta entree in lieu of a baguette. This recipe came from an issue of Family Fun magazine in the late 90’s, and was touted as easy to make, even for the novice bread baker. So those of you with yeast-anxiety (that’s you, sis!) can handle this one. Making bread is like playing with Play Doh, really, and how hard is that?

You can flavor this however you’d like. I usually make it with Italian seasoning, but any dried herb will do, like rosemary, or chives. But I’d stick with the savory ones over the more sweet spices like dill or tarragon. And you don’t have to serve it as a side to a meal – it can be the main attraction. Split the baked loaf in half lengthwise, fill with deli meats, cheese, and fresh spinach, and slather with Dijon mustard. Then replace the top and cut in wedges like a pie, and you’ve just made a killer sandwich. 

There are a few different methods used to rise dough. I put a few inches of hot water in my kitchen sink and put the bowl right in the sink, covered with a moist dish towel. My mother-in-law used to rise her dough in an oven on low heat, but I’ve never gotten the hang of that. For years we lived in a very old house with a teeny tiny kitchen, and I’d raise my dough in the bathtub for lack of counter or sink space. So you don’t need a tricked-out kitchen to make bread, people!

Makes one 12-inch loaf

2/3 warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (or other dried herb of choice)
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Fill large mixer bowl with hot water to warm bowl. Pour out water, and add 2/3 cup warm water. Sprinkle yeast on top of water and add honey. Let sit until yeast is dissolved and begins to foam. Add 1 cup of the flour, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning (or other herb) garlic salt, and 3 tablespoons olive oil to bowl. Fit mixer with dough hook and stir ingredients on low. Add additional 3/4 cup flour and stir on low until dough clings to hook and pulls away from the side of the bowl.

Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil into medium bowl. Set aside. Sprinkle cutting board with flour, and knead dough a few times by pulling dough from outside to inside and punching down as you do. Add a sprinkling of flour as needed, if dough gets sticky. Continue until dough is smooth and elastic. Put dough into oiled bowl, cover with a moist kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm place for an hour.

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Once dough has risen (roughly doubled in size), punch down and knead a couple times to reform into a ball. Sprinkle cutting board with flour and roll dough out with wooden rolling pin to about 1-inch thickness. Drizzle a 12-inch round pizza pan with olive oil, and sprinkle with a trace amount of yellow corn meal. Place flattened dough on prepared pizza pan. Cover with dish towel and move to warm place to rise. Let dough rise 30-40 minutes, or until doubled. Poke top of dough with finger to make dimples, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning (or other herbs). Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until bread is light golden brown on top. Immediately remove loaf to wire rack to cool. If not serving bread within the hour, cover with dry kitchen towel to keep from drying out. To keep fresh overnight, put in plastic bag or wrap, once it is cooled to room temperature. (If you put in plastic when it’s not completely cooled, the condensation will make the bread soggy.)