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RECIPES: A bread in the hand

This hand-held menu visits Europe with calzones, pide and piroshki by Jessica Battilana, The New York Times | April 7, 2021 at 2:27 a.m.
Roasted Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto Calzones (The New York Times/Andrew Purcell)

These days, many of us aren't quite ready for hosting dinner parties or meeting friends at our favorite restaurants. We're still greeting friends at the park for socially distanced picnics.

Sandwiches, paradigms of the hand-held genre, are well and good for a picnic, but there are so many other highly portable, satisfying recipes. Buns and flatbreads travel well, require no utensils, are equally good warm or at room temperature and are even excellent the next day (or the day after that).

Enthusiasm for hand-held foods is nothing new. As long as people have been eating, they've found ways to make nourishing food portable. Consider, for example, the knish carts that once dotted Coney Island. Think about yakitori, hot dogs or kati rolls — or better yet, calzones, piroshki and pide.

In this recipe for calzones, mozzarella, basil pesto and tomatoes are united again. The tomatoes are roasted, which concentrates their flavor. Too much moisture can make the interior of a calzone soggy, so there's also a practical reason to roast, just as there's a practical reason to opt for a firm mozzarella over a fresh, milky one you might use in a caprese salad. A hot oven ensures a crispy crust, and a pizza stone helps, too, if you have one.

Pide (pronounced pea-DAY), a flatbread popular in Turkey, is built on a base of sturdy yeasted dough. The topping is spiced ground lamb — you can substitute ground beef — as well as cubes of eggplant, which become silky and slumped when cooked. Before the topping is piled on, a swipe of egg-enriched yogurt is laid down between the dough and meat, becoming almost cheeselike when baked.

The plush egg-and-butter enriched piroshki dough is sweeter and softer than the calzone or pide dough. Versions of piroshki are prepared throughout Eastern Europe, but here they are made with a cabbage, feta and dill filling, which is sweet and savory. Slow-cooking the ribbons of cabbage in lots of butter coaxes out the vegetable's natural sugars; the feta provides briny contrast, and a load of fresh dill gives the combination a brilliant vibrancy.

Try all of these first with the suggested fillings and toppings. But don't be surprised when your mind wanders and remembers the leftovers in your fridge.

Could you fill piroshki with shredded barbecued chicken? Spiced mashed potatoes? Could you cram a calzone with broccoli and cheddar? Would pide dough make a nice vehicle for sautéed sausage, peppers and onions? Anything is possible, but one thing's for certain: In a world that feels out of hand, you may as well eat that way, too.

Roasted Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto Calzones

  • For the dough:
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • For the tomatoes:
  • 2 pounds small tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, slivered
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ cup PLUS 1 tablespoon basil pesto
  • 1 pound shredded mozzarella (not fresh mozzarella)
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
  • Flaky salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling

Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment (or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon), combine the water and sugar. Sprinkle yeast on top and let stand 5 minutes until foamy. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, salt and olive oil, and mix until combined. Increase speed to medium and mix until the dough comes together in a smooth ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

While the dough rises, prepare the tomatoes: Heat oven to 300 degrees. Arrange tomatoes cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, scatter with garlic and season generously with salt. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the tomato skins are wrinkly. Let cool slightly, then use your fingers to pull the skins off each tomato. (Count the number of tomato pieces now, then you'll have an easier time dividing them among the 6 calzones.) Discard skins, then transfer tomatoes and garlic to a strainer set over a bowl. (You won't need the accumulated juices for this recipe, but save them — you can whisk them with a bit more olive oil and vinegar for a vinaigrette.)

Gently punch down the dough and transfer to a not-floured work surface. Divide into 6 pieces, each about 4 ¼ ounces. Working with one piece of dough at a time, cup the dough ball on a work surface (almost as though you were forming a cage around the dough). Rotate your hand in clockwise circles, exerting a bit of pressure on the top of the dough ball, until it's a smooth sphere. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough and let stand 15 minutes, loosely covered with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel. (The dough can be prepared up to this point, transferred to a baking sheet, covered with greased plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight. Let come to room temperature before proceeding.)

If you have a large pizza stone, place it in the oven and heat oven to 500 degrees. (If you don't have a pizza stone, lightly oil a rimmed 13-by-18-inch baking sheet.) Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll into an 8-inch circle using a rolling pin. Spoon 1 ½ tablespoons pesto in the center of the dough and use the back of the spoon or an offset spatula to spread it in a thin, even layer, leaving a 1-inch border. Pile 2/3 cup mozzarella on half of the dough, then top with some of the tomatoes. Fold the dough in half, over filling, then roll and crimp the edge of the dough together to seal. Repeat with the remaining dough, pesto, mozzarella and tomatoes until all 6 calzones have been formed. Brush each calzone with egg wash and sprinkle with flaky salt.

With a large spatula, transfer the calzones to the pizza stone (or baking sheet) and arrange them diagonally to fit. Bake until puffed and deep brown, 18 to 23 minutes. (Tent with foil if the tops become too dark before the rest of the dough is browned.) Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

Lamb and Eggplant Pide (The New York Times/Andrew Purcell)
Lamb and Eggplant Pide (The New York Times/Andrew Purcell)

Lamb and Eggplant Pide

  • For the dough:
  • ¾ cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • For the filling:
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 small eggplant, diced
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ pound ground lamb
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, for brushing the pans and the pide
  • ½ cup plain full-fat yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment (or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon) combine the water and sugar. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let stand 5 minutes until foamy. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, salt and olive oil and mix until combined. Increase the speed to medium, and mix until the dough comes together as a smooth ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

While the dough is rising, make the filling: Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium. Add the onion and eggplant and several pinches of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, red-pepper flakes and allspice and cook for 1 minute. Add the lamb, increase the heat to high and cook, breaking up the chunks of meat with a wooden spoon, until the meat is barely pink, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly (or removing from the heat as necessary) to keep the garlic from scorching. Let cool slightly, then stir in the mint. Season to taste with more salt.

Arrange the racks in the top and bottom third of the oven, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease 2 rimmed baking sheets.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and egg, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide into 12 pieces, each about 1 ½ ounces. With a floured rolling pin, roll each piece of dough into an even oval measuring about 6-by-4 inches. Working with one piece of dough at a time, spoon a scant tablespoon of the yogurt mixture into the center of the oval, then use the back of the spoon to spread it in a thin layer, leaving a ½-inch border. Spoon some of the lamb mixture on top of the yogurt and spread in an even layer. Fold the edges of the dough up and pinch the ends so the pide resembles a canoe. With a large spatula (or the bottom of a removable bottom tart pan) transfer the pide to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, yogurt and lamb.

Brush each pide with some of the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bake until the dough is deep brown, 18 to 23 minutes, rotating the pans and switching oven racks halfway through baking. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Eat warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 pide (6 servings).

Cabbage, Feta and Dill Piroshki (The New York Times/Andrew Purcell)
Cabbage, Feta and Dill Piroshki (The New York Times/Andrew Purcell)

Cabbage, Feta and Dill Piroshki

  • For the dough:
  • 1 cup milk, warmed
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3 to 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the dough
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
  • For the filling:
  • 4 tablespoons butter (½ stick)
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 small green cabbage (about 1 ½ pounds, cored and cut into ½-inch ribbons
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup crumbled feta
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh dill
  • Flaky salt, for sprinkling (optional)

Make the dough: In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment (or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon), combine the milk and sugar. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let stand 5 minutes until foamy. With the mixer on low speed, add 3 cups of flour, the egg, the butter and the salt, and mix until combined. Increase the speed to medium, and mix until the dough comes together in a smooth ball. (The dough will be soft but should not stick to your fingers. If it does, add more flour by tablespoons.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

While the dough rises, make the filling: In a large (12-inch) high-sided skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, cabbage and a few generous pinches of salt, stir to coat with butter and cook, stirring frequently, until the cabbage is soft and tender but not browned and all the liquid has cooked off, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool, then stir in the feta, dill and more salt and pepper to taste.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Gently punch down the dough, transfer to a work surface and divide into 15 pieces, each about 1 ½ ounces. Roll the pieces into balls, then cover them loosely with a clean dish towel. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll into a 4-inch circle using a rolling pin. (If your dough is particularly sticky, you can dust your work surface with a bit of flour, but adding too much flour makes rolling the dough difficult, so be cautious.) Add 2 to 3 tablespoons filling to the center of each dough round. Pull the dough up and around the filling, pinching the dough firmly to enclose the filling. Place seam-side down, 2 inches apart, on the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. (The piroshki can be made up to this point and frozen for up to 1 month. Freeze on the baking sheet, then transfer to a resealable freezer storage bag. Bake as directed below, adding 2 to 3 minutes to the total baking time.)

Place the racks in the top and bottom third of the oven, and heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a sheet of plastic wrap with nonstick cooking spray, cover each pan of piroshki and let stand at room temperature until puffy, 30 minutes. Brush the tops of each with egg wash and sprinkle with flaky salt, if using, or kosher salt. Bake until browned, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pans and switching oven racks halfway through baking. Transfer the piroshki from the sheet pan to a wire rack and let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 15 piroshki.

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