This is a tale of two underdogs: butternut squash and calzones. The first sidelined by its latte-plundering brethren; the second chronically, confusingly overlooked. In a world where Hot Pockets can turn a profit, I can think of no reason calzones aren’t killing it. Made in miniature, they’re a handheld dream for packed lunches or frozen dinners. A dignified way to dough on the go.
My epiphany came at Emily, a Clinton Hill pizzeria. The pies hit the spot, but the real star was the s’mores calzone that’s become the restaurant’s calling card (or at least its face on Instagram). It’s exactly what it sounds like: a full-size pizza topped with dark chocolate, marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs, folded and baked until charred on the outside and molten within. I mean. It’s just rude to serve something like that after a meal. Next time, I’m getting one for dinner.
In the meantime, I’d like to keep things a little (a little!) more sensible. So I stuffed my homemade calzones with the flavors of fall: butternut squash, sage and lush roasted garlic ricotta, all wrapped in a hazelnut crust.
These are a hard sell. I get it. There’s homemade pizza dough (yeast! Toasted nuts ground into powder!), pre-cooked veggies, and serious wrist calisthenics. The good news is that I made them four times, and start to finish, they’re ready in two hours. If you can’t commit to that, the dough and the squash can both be made ahead, trimming assembly to 30 minutes. The best news is that they’ll keep for months in your freezer — meaning if you put in the time now, you’ve got seven deliciously dignified Hot Pocket nights ahead.
Butternut Squash, Sage, and Ricotta Calzones
I am not a precise cook. This is not a precise recipe. The only thing you should be measuring is the dough, which I’ve broken out separately below. What’s key is slicing the squash into thin, layerable strips and letting the garlic soften to where you can mash it with the ricotta. These cook quickly in a hot oven, which keeps the dough from drying out — and don’t skip that last oil rubdown, okay? Does a body good. Flavors by Martha; form by Emily; engineering by me.
1 butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4” half-moons
1 head garlic
1 recipe Hazelnut Pizza Dough (below)
1 cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup fresh sage leaves, torn into small pieces
A handful of finely ground yellow cornmeal
Salt and pepper
1. Heat oven to 400. Peel and slice squash, toss with a few glugs of olive oil, arrange in a single layer, and sprinkle with salt. Lop off the end of the garlic so the cloves are exposed (no need to peel them), drizzle with oil, and wrap in foil. Bake for 40 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make your dough. Let it rise on top of your warm oven while the veggies roast. When it’s doubled in size (about an hour), divide into eight balls.
3. Mash the roasted garlic (squeeze from the bottom and it’ll ooze right out) into the ricotta. Add the sage, a healthy pinch of salt, and cracked black pepper to taste. I added five cracks per calzone. Say crack again. Crack.
4. Grease two baking sheets lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with cornmeal. Pat dough balls into 4×8″ ovals (four should fit on each sheet). On one half of each oval, layer a tablespoon of the ricotta mixture, a few slices of squash, another blob of ricotta, and more squash. Fold the unloaded halves over and press edges firmly to close.
5. Rub sealed dough balls with olive oil. Bake at 450 for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Eat and feel dignified.
Hazelnut Pizza Dough
1 cup warm water (110 degrees. Think bathwater, not tea water. Would you give it to a baby?)
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
Heaping 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and cooled
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1. In a small bowl, combine water and yeast. Stir and set aside. If it doesn’t look foamy and rebellious in 10 minutes, start over.
2. Pulse hazelnuts in a blender or food processor until finely ground. A few nubs are fine, but it should be mostly sandy in texture. If you get to the nut butter stage, start over. (And put that ish on some toast tomorrow morning.)
3. In a large bowl, whisk flour, ground hazelnuts and salt. Pour yeast mixture and olive oil over top, and stir until a dough forms. At this point, knead on a floured surface, or do what I do and push it around in the bowl, adding flour until it Feels Like Pizza Dough. Very technical term. You should mess with it for a good 5-8 minutes, and you’ll probably add another 1/4 cup of flour.
And you know what? If you wanted to halve the filling, I bet leftover hazelnut dough would make a killer s’mores calzone. Just do yourself a favor and don’t eat dinner first. It’s the adult thing to do.