I love fennel.
It’s fennel. And it’s delicious.
You can roast it, braise it, thinly slice it and toss it raw with lemon juice vinaigrette and garlic, dice it and add it to soups, saute it…
you can pretty much do anything with it and it will be divine.
And it’s purty.
And we all know that purty food tastes better!
As promised, Calzones!
The pizza dough I’d found so distressingly foamy and scary-looking yesterday turned out to be just fine. In fact, it was chewier and crustier than the batch I’d made and used in the same day last week. So, the recipe was right! This dough does improve with age!
Who’da thunk it?
It made delicious, steamy, gooey calzones with a sweet and savory Fennel and Sausage filling and plenty of melted cheese inside! Here’s how I made mine:
I diced the fennel much like I dice onions; cut the top and bottom off (you can use a paring knife to cut out the core, but if you have a young, tender bulb you won’t need to) then make vertical slices from the top almost to the root end, without cutting all the way through. Then cut across to create 1/2″ dice. Then turn the remainder of the root end on its side and finish dicing it up. It will smell cool, refreshing, and sweet, and alluring!
You can save the fronds for another use (minced up in salads, in soups, as garnishes…they have a wonderful flavor and texture too! The fennel bulb I happened to pick up yesterday just didn’t have much in the way of fronds, so there really wasn’t much to save for later use…)
Dice up an onion the same way.
Then, if you are a vegetable fiend like me (or if you just want to sneak some more veggies in so the kids won’t notice. I don’t have kids, but I know how you moms are…always wanting the best for your kids and whatnot!) grate up a couple of carrots too.
I think the carrots add a little more subtle sweetness and richness without adding a strong flavor. And they are chock full of vitamins! Don’t even bother peeling them, just give ’em a good scrub and grate ’em down!
You’ll also want an 8 oz box of frozen, chopped spinach. Thaw it and squeeze as much of the liquid out as you can. While you are at it, drain and roughly chop a can of artichoke hearts.
Or whatever your heart desires!
That’s the beauty of calzones…you can fill them with whatever you want. I just happened to want lots of veggies yesterday!
Mince up a clove (or six. or eight.) of garlic too.
Brown up some Italian sausage in a skillet over medium high heat.
When it is mostly cooked through, throw in the fennel, carrots and onion. Season with salt.
When the fennel, onion, and carrots are tender and browned, turn off the heat and stir in the garlic.
On a side note here, I almost always wait until the food is done cooking before I add minced garlic. It maintains that fresh bite and strong flavor, and there’s no danger of it burning.
But that’s just me.
Throw in the spinach and artichokes…
and a drained can of diced tomatoes, or tomatoes with hot peppers (if that’s what you have on hand), for a little acid and tang.
Stir it all up. Taste a generous forkful and adjust seasoning as needed. Now is the time to throw in some ground black pepper too!
Add the black pepper late in the game so it retains its spice, fragrance and flavor.
Now, punch down your super-scary pizza dough with all the foamy holes and the funky, sourdough odor, and divide it into 12 balls.
Roll (or stretch, tear, and patch, if you want to be like me) a ball of dough out into an approximately 8″ circle.
Grate up a large mound of mozzarella cheese, and get an 8 oz container of ricotta cheese conveniently close.
(I drained my ricotta in a cheese cloth for a couple of hours in the fridge to make sure it wouldn’t be watery. You can probably skip this step with most grocery store ricottas. The cheesecloth was barely even damp…)
Sprinkle a few tablespoons of mozzarella over one half of the dough circle…
Throw on about 1/2 cup of the sausage, fennel, artichoke and spinach filling…
Throw a couple of tablespoons of ricotta on top, but forget to take a picture because you are a nerd…
Then use a little water to dampen the edges of the dough and fold it over. Give the edges a little roll-and-twist to really seal things up.
Don’t take pictures of this step. It’s not worth it, really. Your fingers will be covered in flour, dough, filling and water and your camera will be the one who suffers for it.
Suffer the little cameras…
Bake in an oven preheated to 450º for about 20 minutes, until everything is hot and the dough is golden brown and crispy.
Perfection in a pocket!
Eat and be happy!
Here’s the recipe (sans pizza dough…you’ve seen that one enough already)
Fennel and Sausage Calzones
One recipe pizza dough
1 lb Italian sausage
1 small bulb fennel, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, grated
5-8 cloves garlic, minced
1 8oz box frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 14 oz can quartered artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
1 can diced tomatoes (or tomatoes with peppers) drained
16 oz grated mozzarella cheese
8 oz ricotta cheese
Preheat oven to 450º.
Prepare two baking sheets: oil lightly or sprinkle generously with cornmeal or semolina flour to help the calzones keep from sticking.
Heat a large skillet to medium high heat. Brown the sausage lightly, then drain any excess grease. Push the sausage over to one side of the pan, pour in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and pour in the fennel, onion and carrot. Salt lightly. Cook until veggies are tender and browned, then turn off the heat and stir in the garlic, spinach, artichokes and tomatoes. Season with pepper, then taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Roll each ball into an approximately 8″ circle. Spread a couple of tablespoons of mozzarella, 1/2 c fennel and sausage filling, and 2-3 tablespoons of ricotta on half of each circle.
Use water to dampen the edges of the dough, then bring one edge of the circle to the other to make a half moon. Press together, then twist and roll the edges together to create a good seal. Place on prepared baking sheet.
Bake on the top rack for 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is hot and melty.
Wait about 5 minutes to dig in, or suffer the wrath of the steam!
Eat and be happy!