I feel like I’ve done nothing but cook for a week. I mean of course there was wrapping and baking and cleaning and shoveling and last minute shopping as well.
I’m exhausted, but happy.
My mom and Rich flew in from Miami a few days before Christmas and I wanted to feed them well while they were here.
I made a big pot of escarole and beans (which I will tell you about later this week) for lunch the day they arrived to warm them up…
The next day we made 700 homemade cavatelli to freeze for Christmas dinner, which I will also tell you about later this week….
And of course a big pot of gravy with sausage and ribs to go with those.
Hadley and her friend Delaney made Christmas cookies that day, which came out fantastic!
That night I made a marinated flank steak, baked potatoes, broccoli and a salad, but then at the last minute we decided to make 3 loaves of homemade bread, which we all filled up on once those hot and steamy things came out of the oven. All I really need is homemade bread with butter and I’m happy.
We decided to eat the flank steak for Christmas breakfast the next day with poached eggs. We turned the baked potatoes into crispy hash browns which were perfect with the steak.
For Christmas dinner, along with the cavatelli, I made a 10 lb. ham with all of the trimmings. And today, I made a big pot of split pea soup with the Christmas ham bone, because you just have to make split-pea soup with the leftover ham bone, right?
And, last but not least, on Christmas Eve morning, I made a 9-pound calzone that I brought to my brother’s house for dinner that night.
Calzone is another family favorite that we have been making for years. We mostly have it for holdiays, always for Christmas, and sometimes on Easter too. Our calzone is probably a lot different than what you may have had, which I’m guessing is a crescent-shaped pizza filled with mozzarella cheese and whatever else you might like. I’m sure they’re delicious, but to me it’s so similar to pizza that I might as well just have pizza, you know?
Maybe it’s just me. I love pizza.
Ours is more like a thick stuffed pizza, but made with ricotta cheese and hot Italian sausage, no sauce. It’s thick and rich and decadent. This is not eating lite friends, not even close. Did I mention that we mostly have this on holidays? It’s a treat, and we love it.
It’s questionable where this originated in my family. Some say it’s Aunt Lucille’s recipe, some say Aunt Mary Jane’s. Some say it’s Mama’s. Being one of the younger cousins….(ahem)…..all I can say is that I know it as something either Uncle Billy or my Dad always made for the holidays.
Regardless, someone is always the designated calzone-maker.
And when that was Frank, without fail, he’d have to call my Uncle Billy before making it and ask him, “Bill, now give me that recipe again. How much cheese? How many eggs?”
Finally I think he must have written it down, because I got the recipe this year (once again) from my brother and it came from Frank. OK, so I must have inherited that gene of either not writing things down or misplacing them. I’ve made calzone for 3 years in a row now for Christmas Eve and I’ve had to call my brother each year for the recipe.
Thanks, Phill! Now we will all have it here, forever, on littleclove. ;-)
Like most families, we have certain dishes that we just have to have on holidays. Along with the turkey or ham (sometimes both) someone always makes pasta. This year, Christmas Eve was at Phill’s house, so he made ravioli….
YUM! And gravy with meatballs, sausage and I think he threw in some chicken…
Sometimes we have eggplant. My mom usually makes that, but we didn’t have it this year.
My Dad would bring his homemade biscotti, or pizelles, an Italian waffle cookie made with anise and powdered sugar. Sometimes my mom would make rosettes, deep fried cookies that are light and crispy and look like flowers sprinkled with powdered sugar. We love those.
Aunt Rose Ann would bring a big box of taralli, or TA-DOLLS’s as we call them….(you need a box when the numbers get into the triple digits), her special recipe, which are delicious frosted lemon-y Italian cookies.
This year, my cousins Jimmy and Joan brought sausage and peppers which I love….
There was pizza…..and lots of it.
Aunt Lucille always made escarole pizza…
Which has now turned into my cousin Carole’s (Lu’s daughter) dish to bring. It’s escarole mixed with black olives and walnuts stuffed inside pizza dough. This is much lighter than calzone because there’s no cheese or meat.
It was delicious, Carole!
And there was tomato bread…
which reminds us all of my Grandma’s house.
And, of course my calzone.
There is this thing with the calzone…..nobody can ever make it hot enough. We like it hot, and apparently the hotness cooks out in the oven. This always frustrated Frank because no matter how much red pepper he added, it was never hot enough. I remember one year when Uncle Billy made it, he put so much red pepper in it that the cheese was pink! OK, that one was hot.
I would have liked this one that I made a bit hotter, but the rest of them seemed to think it was just right.
I know I talk about this a lot, but what I do is taste as I go (and not with the same spoon!). First I make the cheese-y filling which starts with hot Italian sausage.
Remove it from the casing, add some fennel seeds, some crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. Obviously you can’t taste it now, but you fry it until all of the pink color is gone, and now taste it. Is it hot enough? If so, add a few more pinches of red pepper. :-)
Let that sit while you get the cheese ready. I use this brand of ricotta…
I like its creaminess, but you can use your favorite, or whatever you can find. I wouldn’t use low-fat or skim ricotta. Go for the whole milk.
Mix that up with some freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese and chopped fresh parsley.
I like to use lots of parsley because I can’t get enough of that stuff. Add some salt and pepper and now taste. Adjust the seasonings, and then throw in the eggs.
And now mix the sausage into the cheese.
If you’ve been following along here, you know that I have not yet perfected my pizza dough. I’ve tried and tried and tried. The holidays are not the time for me to experiment with this, with everything going on. If you have a favorite homemade dough, make that. Or, use your favorite store bought pizza dough. I opted to buy the frozen brand that my Dad used to use sometimes. It’s called Rhodes pizza dough and you can get it at Jewel or Dominicks here in Chicago.
It comes in 3-loaf packages. After it thawed, I kneaded it into a ball, and then cut it in 1/2 and rolled out a top and bottom crust.
Yeah, didn’t fit so much at first.
This dough is really springy, so it’s hard getting it to the edge of the pan. But, keep trying. Don’t give up! I took a break to get this photo, but eventually, with my mom’s help, we did it.
I brushed the bottom crust with some egg whites to keep the pizza from being soggy, and then I filled it with that creamy cheese-y goodness….
Then I put the top crust on and sealed the edges. I poked a few holes in the top with a fork, to let out the steam while it’s cooking, and brushed it with an egg yolk wash to make it nice and shiny.
I popped it in the oven for 45 minutes, until the house smelled yummy and….
WOW, it comes out like this! Isn’t it beautiful?
Frank was always so proud of these when they puffed up all golden brown and beautiful. He’d carry it around the house on a kitchen towel, showing it to all of us.
“Jude, just look at that!” :-)
(Actually, when this one came out, my mom and I couldn’t wait to call Rich into the kitchen to show him.)
You really have to get this thing out of the pan immediately so it stops cooking and can cool. It took 3 of us (my mom, Rich and I) and lots of spatulas to remove it onto wire racks to cool. It was quite a challenge! A balancing act, to be honest. That thing is heavy! And you don’t want it to crack in the middle.
Things I’d do differently next time: Place parchment paper under the bottom crust before you assemble the pizza. That way, when it’s done, you can easily remove it from the pan onto cooling racks. This was actually Phill’s idea, and I think it’s brilliant!
Also, my calzone sort of sprung-a-leak on the bottom in one section. I may make the bottom crust a bit thicker than the top next time, so it wouldn’t be a 1/2 and 1/2 split of the dough.
And maybe I’d try making two smaller pizzas, instead of one, with the same recipe. Easier to manage….just thinkin’.
It always turns out good, but this time the stars aligned and there was just that extra something special that made this one really great.
Thick, creamy, moist and flavorful. Even the hot pepper had a kick!
My brother and my cousin Jimmy both said it was the best calzone they have ever tasted. WOW WOW WOW!
That’s sayin’ something in my family! Did you hear that, Dad? THE BEST. :-)
Now that just makes me happy.
Adapted from Frank, Billy, Mary Jane, Lucielle, Mama and Phill. Let me know if I’m forgetting someone.
3 lbs pizza dough, homemade or your favorite frozen store bought, thawed according to package instrustions
2 pounds hot Italian sausage, removed from casing
4 pounds ricotta cheese
4 eggs, + 2 for egg wash
Italian flat-leaf parsley, 1 big bunch (as it comes when you buy it), chopped
Pecorino Romano cheese, 2 cups + more to taste, freshly grated
Fennel seeds, to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
FOR THE FILLING
In a medium bowl, mix sausage , fennel seeds, crushed red pepper, salt & pepper. In a sauté pan over medium heat, fry until meat is no longer pink. Taste and adjust all seasonings. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix ricotta, romano cheese, parsley, salt & pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Add the eggs.
Combine meat mixture with cheese mixture. Set aside.
FOR THE DOUGH
Separate the yolks from the egg whites of 2 eggs in 2 separate bowls and beat both of them. Set aside.
Cover a large sheet pan with parchment paper and dust with corn meal, to prevent dough from sticking. Cut the dough in 1/2 and use ½ the dough for the top crust, ½ the dough for the bottom crust, or alter to make the bottom crust a bit thicker than the top.
Roll out bottom crust to fit a large sheet pan. My pan was slightly larger than the standard 15 x 10, but you can use that. Place bottom crust in sheet pan and work the dough to fit the pan around the edges.
Brush the inside of the bottom crust with egg whites before filling to prevent pizza from being soggy, just enough to cover it.
Fill bottom crust with cheese mixture. It will be thick, that’s a good thing.
Roll out the top crust to fit the sheet pan. Cover with the top crust and seal edges all around the calzone. Prick the top of calzone a few times with a fork, and brush the top and sides with egg yolks. You’ll probably need to use it all to cover the entire thing, sides and all.
Bake at 375º until golden brown, approximately 45 minutes. If it’s starts to get too brown with lots of time remaining (say 10 minutes like mine did) cover the top of the calzone with a piece of aluminum foil and continue baking.
When it’s done, remove from pan immediately (and carefully) using the parchment paper and cool on wire racks.
Let the calzone sit for about 15 mintues before serving so the cheese can set.
This was even better the next day heated up out of the fridge for breakfast!
Note: some people like to drain the ricotta the night before in a strainer. I tried this before with this cheese, and one drop came out. So I skipped that step this time, and it was fine. Creamier than normal, which everyone seemed to love.