After my mom posted a recipe on Facebook for pizza balls, I thought I’d have a go at modifying it to make calzone balls. I love a good calzone, and I’m really picky about them. For me, by which I mean this should be law, a simple cheese calzone is a mixture of mozzarella and ricotta, maybe a little Parmesan, no sauce, in a thin crust that is not seasoned or rubbed with flavors that would distract from the cheese. It is a perfect cheese experience. Before they basically spun out their business, I used to rely on Gino & Joe’s to make a good calzone, but they eventually changed their recipe and were therefore dead to me. Just about the only place left near me that makes a good calzone is a pizza place called Paladino’s, which is actually where I first learned to love them.
Look, it’s not that I have a problem with people who want to put sauce in with the cheese or use a thicker crust or rub the outside with garlic and butter and Parmesan. I don’t have a problem with people wanting to use only mozzarella or only ricotta. Knock yourself out. Just don’t call it a calzone.
So on to the recipe. For reference, and because I think a lot of people will enjoy it, this is the original pizza balls recipe. I tracked it down and found out it’s from the Gunny Sack, and is called “easy pepperoni rolls“.
The core of this recipe is merely getting biscuit dough and stuffing it with something, so I got a can of Grands buttermilk biscuits, and mixed up ricotta and shredded mozzarella for the stuffing. I would have added a smidge of Parmesan but I didn’t have any. This is the recipe as I made it, not as I would make it next time. Post-mortem follows below.
Calzone balls, Mark I
- 1 can Pillsbury Grands buttermilk biscuits
- ½ cup whole milk ricotta
- ½ cup shredded whole milk mozzarella
Mix cheeses in a bowl to form stuffing. Cut each biscuit (the can contains 8) in half. Roll half-biscuits into balls and press flat. Curse because you do not have a small rolling pin or a big enough work surface to get the dough flat. Use fingers to spread dough flatter. Place a spoonful of cheese into each flattened round, and gather sides to cover. Fail spectacularly with two of them because biscuit dough was not flattened enough and does not stay stretched. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and cook in a preheated 425° oven for just under 15 minutes.
Now as promised, the post-mortem. First, the dough tastes too much like a biscuit, not enough like pizza dough. I guess that should have been obvious going in. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t quite a calzone experience. The dough also didn’t get crispy. Many of the balls leaked a little, but the leakage issue wasn’t too terrible.
Somewhat worse, my cheese mixture was all wrong. When mixing shredded cheddar with ricotta, I highly recommend using a 2:1 ratio (by volume) instead. There wasn’t remotely enough mozzarella. The soft filling also gave me a lot of trouble. I did expect some trouble, but with the dough constantly contracting every time I tried to close it up, I decided that next time, I’m portioning the filling ahead of time into little balls and freezing them before trying to wrap dough around them. How I’ll actually accomplish that in my freezer, I don’t know.
The one thing that saved this experiment was that I made a quick garlic butter dipping sauce to eat them with. That was a little over half a stick of salted butter, and I’d say a little under a teaspoon of dried minced garlic, melted in a ramekin in the microwave. Having something to dip made the biscuit work a lot better, which I suspect is the point of the original pepperoni balls recipe.
So if I used a thinner, actual pizza dough next time, it occurs to me I could stuff the balls with almost anything. Tonia of the Gunny Sack thought the same thing, which is why she has several recipes you can check out. For me, I think mac & cheese would make a phenomenal stuffing, but she got to that idea first.
If you’ve read a lot of my posts on cooking you’ve probably wondered by now: Why do you always modify recipes and experiment instead of making them as-is the first time? There are two answers. First, I’m a picky eater and some of the elements in many of these recipes would not work for me. I don’t think I’d object to anything in the pepperoni balls except for the pizza dipping sauce, but it still isn’t what I wanted to make. Second, every time I experiment I learn a little more, and I think it makes me a better cook. The truth is I don’t cook very often except for very simple food, because it’s hard to find time during the week. So I keep experimenting, and with luck and work more of my late-night bad ideas can end up as very good ideas indeed. Now if only I had some meat glue…