2012 July: In the Zone

Calzones are the perfect menu item to help stretch your ingredients while increasing the versatility of your menu. Calzones have been around for decades, and thinking outside the box (or semi-circle in this case) can yield some outrageous calzones that will keep your customers craving these hand-held creations. The options are practically limitless. A calzone is essentially a folded pizza, and anything that you can put on a pizza can be put in a calzone.

You’ve got to consider how much sauce and how many ingredients you stuff inside this delectable baked treat. Too much sauce will create a soggy calzone and make it almost impossible to pick up and eat. Customers get excited about adding lots of fillings, leaving us trying to figure out how to cram so much into our dough. Remember, too many ounces of calzone fillings may still be undercooked by the time the dough is finished and golden on the outside. Train your staff to either limit the amount of fillings or, if a customer wants too many fillings, train the crew to use less of each so your calzone can bake properly. My preference for the ideal calzone is a 12-ounce pizza dough ball stretched out to 12 inches. Put your ingredients on the lower half of your stretched dough, ensuring that none of the toppings or fillings overlap the bottom edge of the dough. This will ensure a proper seal of your calzone, which is critical so it doesn’t open during the baking process and allow your sauce or cheese to ooze out while in the oven and make a real mess. If you are going to use any sauce of any kind in a calzone, it is better to use a small amount and to add your sauce last, drizzling it over your other fillings while allowing the sauce to bake down over the other ingredients. This will leave a crisper bottom.

Once you have stretched your dough, put the filling on the bottom half and drizzle a little bit of sauce over your ingredients. Now you simply want to fold the top down to the bottom covering all the ingredients. Some folks use an egg wash, but I just act as though I’m trying to push my fingers straight through to the bottom of the dough which always seals it well. Here’s the trick –– as the calzone bakes (which is generally the same time and temp as a pizza) it will get very hot inside. That will create some steam and it will want to escape. That’s why I slit or rip a little hole in the top of my calzones before they go into the oven. That steam that wants to escape will find the path of least resistance — and if there’s not a hole in the top, it will rip a hole in your seam and make a mess in your oven. Think of it as a chimney.

OK, we’ve got the basics, essentials and calzone building techniques down. It’s time to put our chef hats on and get creative. So many pizzerias have your basic calzone with pepperoni and cheese, or ricotta and tomatoes, but if you want to knock your customers’ socks off and have them talking about your outrageous calzones at the water cooler, you’ve got to get creative. It’s important that we know our customer base as well. You don’t want to have a sophisticated and overpriced calzone on your menu if you’re feeding a community who can’t afford it or have never heard of the fillings you offer. Think about some of your favorite entrées or sandwiches and figure a way to make it work in a calzone using the principles that I’ve shared with you:

• I love a great Steak Bomb Calzone. Cook your steak up with some grilled peppers, onions, mushrooms garlic salt and pepper and put about 10 total ounces of that mixture with some cheese, and you’ve got a winner for sure.

u Chicken Cordon Bleu is a classic French dish that can easily be made into a calzone. Use either grilled or cooked breaded chicken breast, ham and Swiss cheese. You can add a drizzle of Alfredo sauce and now you’ve got a French classic.

u The only thing better than a great Reuben sandwich would be an amazing Reuben calzone. Either make or buy some rye dough for this one and stretch it the same way you would pizza dough. Sliced lean corned beef, Swiss cheese, very well drained sauerkraut and a drizzle of 1000 Island dressing will yield you some raving fans.

u Pulled pork can be used on a Cuban sandwich, as well as a pizza topping. Guess what? It’s also great in a calzone. Let’s call this one a “Bar-B-Q Pit” calzone. Toss six ounces of pulled pork with two ounces of your favorite BBQ sauce and spread that on the bottom half of your 12-inch stretched pizza dough. Next, add two ounces of ham, one ounce of crumbled bacon, two ounces of grilled onions and three ounces of your pizza cheese to finish off this hand-held BBQ calzone.

u Don’t be afraid to try some vegetarian options using veggies like spinach, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts and Feta cheese.

u A breakfast calzone with scrambled eggs, ham, bacon, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese can create a whole new meal period for you if you feel there is a need for feeding folks breakfast.

These are just a few great ideas for some extraordinary calzones that are sure to please. Add your own flair and creativity. Once you’ve got your calzone repertoire down to some great choices, let your customers help create and name some new ones. That always creates a buy in factor with customers. I hope you can take some of these creative tips and run with it. u

Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.

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