WHEN I was growing up, my family lived in an Italian neighborhood. It was a place alive with color, fragrance and tastes. There were hot sausage sandwiches at the corner carryout and cannoli at the bakery. The old Italian greengrocer delivered vegetables door-to-door in a horse-drawn wagon. And it always seemed to me that one of his best customers was our next-door neighbor, a widow with eight children to feed. She walked away from his wagon with shining purple eggplant, pricly artichokes, tangy pomegranates, tiny hot peppers and thick green zucchini. These were unknown in our house.
Mrs. Ianichone fed her children like princes. The Sunday and holiday meals at her house were four- or five-hour affairs with children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors urging each other to finish each of the 12 to 15 courses.
It was in Mrs. Ianichone's kitchen that I learned about pizza, calzone and sfinciuni. Oh, I didn't know what they were called; these were just snacks or lunches her daughter Antoinette shared with me. It was many years later that I learned the names and how they were made.
Over the years, pizza has become so well known that some people claim it as an American invention. But somehow calzone, sfinciuni and stromboli, pizza's close cousins, have remained unknown. If you are among the uninitiated, let me introduce them.
Calzone is a fresh pizza filled, folded in half, sealed and -- at least where I come from -- deep-fried. It is not eaten walking down the street, it may be served with a fresh tomato sauce and sometimes with cream sauce and parmesan. Each person is served his or her own calzone, which may be filled with cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers or whatever you usually like on your pizza.
I prefer to call sfinciuni stuffed pizza, mostly because I can't pronounce the Italian name. It's really a two-crust pizza and may be filled with broccoli and cheese, prosciutto and creamed spinach or sausage and cheese. wThe filling must be very flavorful to make a statement between the two thick layers of bread.
Stromboli is a pizza that has been rolled up and baked like a small loaf of bread. It is a hero sandwich with the meat and cheese baked inside. Stromboli with a big bowl of minestrone makes a hearty, healthy winter meal. I like to take stomboli along on skiing trips. It even can be eaten on the lift if there is not time for a lunch break. But it's really at its best hot and crisp from the oven.
Pizza's country cousins are worth getting to know. CALZONE (6 servings) 1 recipe bread dough (see recipe below) 4 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion, diced 1 clove garlic, minced 1/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced 1 green pepper, diced and cooked 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes 3 cups thick tomato sauce 8 ounces pepperoni, thinly sliced 8 ounces mozzarella cheese 1/2 cup parmesan Oil for deep frying 1 receipe bechamel (see recipe below)
Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Roll each piece into a circle about 10 inches across. Allow to rest while you prepare the filling. Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Saute the onion, garlic, mushrooms and green pepper until soft. Do not overcook. Add the red pepper flakes and toss well.
Spread a heaping tablespoon of tomato sauce on each of the circles of dough.
Divide the sauteed vegetables evenly between the 6 circles, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Add pepperoni, mozzarella and parmesan. Fold the circles in half. Seal the edges by pinching shut. If you have used excess flour in rolling out the dough, it may be necessary to wet the edges with water to make them seal.
Cover calzone with a towel and allow to rise for 45 minutes on a cookie sheet or pastry board dusted with flour.
Deep fry unitl each calzone is a deep golden brown on each side. Drain on a paper towel. Heat the bechamel and remaining tomato sauce in separate pans. Spoon tomato sauce onto each of 4 deep dinner plates. Place a calzone on each one. Spoon a little bechamel down the center of each calzone. Serve immediately. SFINCIUNI WITH PROSIUTTO AND SPINACH (6 servings) 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach 1 cup bechamel sauce (see recipe below) 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese 1 clove garlic, mashed Salt Freshly grated nutmeg and pepper to taste 1 recipe bread dough (see recipe below) Oil for cooking 4 ounces prosciutto, cut very thin (or substitute thin boiled ham) 1 egg yolk 2 tablespoons milk or cream
Thaw the spinach and squeeze it dry. Add the spinach to the bechamel and stir in the cheeses, garlic, salt, nutmeg, pepper.
Divide the dough in two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Roll the larger piece to form a 14-inch circle. Oil pizza pan and place the dough on it. Spread half of the prosciutto slices on the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Spoon the spinach mixture onto the prosciutto. Cover the spinach with the remaining prosciutto.
Roll out the second piece of dough to a 13-inch circle. Place the circle of dough on top of the prosciutto. Fold the excess bottom crust up over the top and pinch together as you would a pie. Slash a small hole in the top crust for steam to escape. Brush with an egg wash made with the yolk and 2 tablespoons milk. Allow to rise for 45 minutes. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes. STROMBOLI (4 servings) 1 recipe bread dough (see recipe below) 4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil 1 clove garlic, crushed Salt and pepper 8 ounces pepperoni, sliced thin 8 ounces mozzarella, diced 8 ounces imported provolone, diced 1 egg yolk 2 tablespoons milk or cream
Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece to form a circle 10 inches across. Mix the olive oil with the garlic. Brush each piece of dough heavily with the oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Divide the pepperoni and cheeses evenly among the circles. Roll as you would a jelly roll, tucking in the ends to form a sealed envelope. Place the dough on a dusted cookie sheet, cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in bulk. Brush with an egg wash made with the yolk and milk or cream.Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 40 to 50 minutes. Serve warm. BREAD DOUGH 1 cake of yeast (or 1 package dry) 1 cup warm water 3 cups flour 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 teaspoon salt
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Add 1 cup of the flour and stir well. Add the oil and salt. Stir well. Add the remaining flour and knead for 10 minutes by hand to make a smooth elastic dough. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and allow to rise until doubled in bulk.Punch down and use as directed in the recipe you are using. BECHAMEL (Cream Sauce) 4 tablespoons butter 4 tablespoons flour 1 teaspoon salt White pepper to taste Pinch fresh ground nutmeg 2 cups milk or light cream
Melt the butter in a 1-quart saucepan. When the butter is foaming but not browned, add the flour and stir. Cook 1 minute. Add the seasonings. Whisk in the milk or cream. Bring to a boil and turn down the heat. Simmer for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning.