11 June 2013

Sweet Italian Sausage and Fennel Calzone with Provolone del Monaco and Marinara Dipping Sauce

Sweet Italian Sausage and Fennel Calzone with Provolone del Monaco
and Marinara Dipping Sauce
Today our journey begins here on the winding coastal roads to the west of Sorrento sweeping along hilly slopes lined with olive and lemon groves at the urging of Amanda Murray and Marco Predieri on what was to be one of the highlights of my trip. After our journey to Gragnano and its pasta factories we headed back towards the coast and a fairytale landscape dotted with over 30 tiny hamlets clinging to their charming heritage in the area of Massa Lubrense. Zig zagging our way up past towering rocky bluffs and plunging gorges, the beautiful combination of the mountains mesmerized us where the land  meets the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Naples. Enchanting fishing villages seduced us from their protected harbours. Driving on the roads of Massa Lubrense, we spotted terraces of lemon and orange groves climbing high up the steep cliffs. They are protected from winter winds by an elaborate armour of chestnut tree scaffolding and trellis systems. It is quite the experience to spot the bright citrus fruits caught somewhere between the majestic mountains and the cerulean blue sea. Many visitors to the area pass through this beautiful stretch of cape and head straight for the more infamous Amalfi Coast without ever experiencing the spectacular views of the gulf sparkling in the afternoon sun and the network of trails that wind through the fragrant lemon and citrus groves.

The people who have lived here over the centuries, have benefited from the fruits of the sea and land, as well as the crops and livestock of the Lattari Mountains. Typical products of this area include Mozzarella di Agerola, Fior di Latte (whole cow’s milk cheese), Provolone del Monaco, extra virgin olive oil, limoncello, Sorrento tomatoes and walnuts. When I visited last fall I was lucky enough to wander through lemon and olive groves, make my own pizza, witness cheese being hand-made, and taste limoncello and olive oil through the generosity of some very engaging local families in Massa Lubrense. The protagonist of this performance is the enchanting village of Schiazzano on the outskirts of  the town of Sorrento where the Gargiulo, Gregorio and Esposito families and friends invited us to experience their extraordinary food and wine through their tour "Schiazzano and Traditions." It was not only an opportunity to spend some time with locals who have a passion for the land they have cultivated for generations but to catch a glimpse into their culture and traditions. The bonus was to taste some of the quality products and ingredients indigenous to the area. 

Marco in the doorway to "Da Francesco"
There was so much packed into one afternoon that this post has been broken up into several parts. You can read about the tour of the lemon grove here, but, today my focus is traditional Neapolitan style pizza and local cheeses. Our first stop was the enchanting village of Schiazzano in the heart of Massa Lubrense. At night you can see all of the twinkling lights from village to village meandering down the hillside. Magical. 

We parked in front of  a small local shop in the ancient square of this quaint village and stood in front of an eighteenth century building. "Da Francesca" has held a place of honour here for over 50 years. This trattoria  highlights the best flavours of the Sorrentine peninsula thanks to the talents of chef and owner Lucio Esposito who combines respect for the land and its traditions with innovative taste. The restaurant has two entrances. The heavy portal we see above takes you through the delicatessen and the other is in the back of the building that takes you directly into the restaurant. The atmosphere is very "traditional Italian" with a woody decor, simple chairs, and an open kitchen dominated by the object of my desire... a wood fire oven. The emphasis is on comfort, la gioia di vivere, the joy of life.

In retrospect the first thing I noticed was the warm, smiling faces of Chef Lucio and his family and friends. I was immediately made to feel like one of the family as I delved into the art of pizza making in the Neapolitan style in a historical restaurant in the heart of a small village.

My "Neopolitan" pizza
The restaurant has an interesting history. Owned since 1953 by Lucio's parents Francis and Yolanda it started off as a local delicatessen and a meeting place for locals to play cards and have a good glass of wine and tasty cheeses handcrafted by Yolanda. Her cheeses were marketed as far away as Capri and hand delivered by Francis. In 1966 the small town of Schiazzano hosted a movie crew headed by director  Eduardo de Fillipo as they filmed Spara più forte, più forte... non capisco (Shoot louder, I Can't Hear You) notably starring Rachel Welch. Yolanda cooked for the stars, staff, and crew. According to their website she still remembers Marcello Mastoianni loving his salty anchovies. Subsequently, by popular demand the trattoria and pizzeria called "The Circle" was born where you could find a delicious dinner, a glass of wine, a limoncello and the warmth of the local people. What a hidden gem!

Lucio grew up in the kitchen and eventually took over  creating an innovative and ever-changing menu. With the help of his wife Adelanna and their sons Francesco and Iolanda they offer an exceptional blend of Mediterranean flavours with the love and commitment that only a close family can keep alive. They pay homage to their Italian roots with a commitment to simple and fresh ingredients on traditional wood-fired, thin crust pizzas and many other exciting dishes. Their mission is to provide delicious food in a fun and enjoyable environment.

Pizza Oven
Pizza (da pizzeria), pizza tonda, pizza alla pala, pizza da forno, pizza alla genovese, pizza in teglia, pizza al taglio, focaccia, and pane pizza are just some of the main variations of pizza… before toppings! Each one is made from a different dough, in a different oven, and available from different places, at different times of the day. There are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pizzerias in the world. Trying to crown one place the best in the world is an absurd task and a fool's errand. There are an infinite number of varieties and once you start evaluating toppings and speciality pizzas it's impossible to make a direct comparison between one pizza and the next. But if you just consider classic Neapolitan style pizza without toppings, you can probably narrow the world's best pizzerias down to the low hundreds.

Neopolitan pizza must be made in a traditional wood-burning oven. There are rules and regulations for its ingredients and method of cooking. We’re talking about pizzas with flame-licked crusts puffed to perfection. Pizzas with pools of earthy olive oil and a slather of savoury tomato sauce. We poked, stretched and coerced our soft pliable dough into a roundish form and tossed it into the air with all the flair of a maestro conducting his orchestra. Lucio scooped it up onto a long wooden paddle or peel  and shoved it towards the back of the oven. The glow inside the oven is a fire created with beech or maple stacked up against the sides of the huge, brick oven.

In the oven it goes
Pizza requires extreme heat. The only reason you can cook pizza at 750F (500C) is that it is thin and will cook in 90 seconds. The only way to make the best pizza in the world is to bake it at these high temperatures. If you look at the bottom of a pizza that has been cooked in an oven with a a huge fire in it you will see that there are places where it is charred. Not many. Just a few. But it is the indication that the pizza chef, the pizzaolo, is working on the edge of disaster, which is where brilliant pizzas are born.

Lucio pulled my pizza  out of the oven in one deft motion. Molten mozzarella bubbles, fresh basil melds with tomato sauce and steam rises from the puffed, crackling crust. The first bite is euphoria. But it was soon time to move on and we said goodbye to our new found friends the Esposito family and on to our next adventure.

Provolone del Monaco
We were warmly welcomed by the Gargiulo family at their farm "La Masseria" whose ancestors cultivated the land in 1898. With Ferdinando and his son Eugenio I had the opportunity to stroll along the terraced fields and paths of the farm which were draped in netting to catch the falling olives, listening to their stories and gaining an insight into their production and time honoured traditions. The mild climate, the green of the chestnut woods and the intoxicating perfume of the lemons beckoned us to taste and savour the fruits of their labour. The farm covers approximately 2 hectares consisting of olive and Femminiello lemon groves dotted with orange, tangerine, grapefruit, walnuts, kiwi, apricot, cherries, plums, medlars, peaches, pears and persimmons. 

Joining us next was Benedetto De Gregorio of "Il Turuziello." He is one of 15 cheese makers in all of Italy who makes Provolone del Monaco (Monks Provolone), truly one of the most delicious cheeses I have ever tasted. Marco made the observation that Benedetto's cheese was the best he had tried in several years. Provolone del Monaco D.O.P. is a seasoned, semi-hard, pulled-curd cheese  produced in the provinces of Naples using only unprocessed milk from a specific breed of cattle. This highly prized cheese has been made on the Sorrento coastal peninsula since the 8th Century and is still made using the original traditional recipe. Provolone del Monaco is made from cows milk from the Agerolese breed.  As a DOP product it is often imitated, but never successfully.

Making mozzarella cheese
The curd is made into fine grains using a Sassa wooden tool and then this is spun and twisted until the paste is moulded in its required shape of a pear or cylinder. It is then left drying and hanging in a wine cellar for 4-18 months occasionally being washed with  brine solution. It is identified from the  hazelnut colour and/or reddish hue of its crust. The characteristic flavours and aromas of the region can be tasted in the cheese when it is ready for eating. Considering its artisinal handmade quality I am not sure it is available outside of Italy.

Given its importance as a typical food product, the Campanian Provolone del Monaco exists under very strict rules of production, the regulation of which has pertained to the Consortium of Protection since 2006. Numbered cheeses began making an appearance in 2007. The Consortium is the only organization recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry as having the official capacity to protect, uphold, appraise and promote this DOP cheese. As Italian products have become popular, and poor imitations have flooded the marketplace, they need to make sure that we look for, ask for, seek out and enjoy the product as it was originally intended.  DOP, an acronym for Denominazione di Origine Protetta, has made it easy for us to do so.

The name "del Monaco" comes from the shepherds in Agerola who transported their cheese on the backs of mules to the beaches, where they were loaded on rowing boats. At their destination farmers became makeshift merchants. To shelter themselves and their cargo from the sea and night humidity they covered themselves with a large cape-like robe worn by monks. Neapolitans informed each other of their arrival, to the cries of "E’ arrivato zi’ monaco co’ pruvulone!" (uncle monk is here to sell provolone). 'Monaco' means monk. 

The farm relies on the teamwork of the whole of the De Gregorio family and excels in the production of cheeses. Benedetto made mozzarella, ricotta, and caciottine right in front of our eyes from milk that had been collected that morning. This takes on the appearance of a timeless dance as he pulled and pushed as if making taffy, and then reformed the cheese to keep it fluid and warm. It truly was inspiring as each cheese materialised as if by magic before our eyes. I watched closely as he transformed the mozzarella balls into braids and took amateurish videos. They also make caciotta, caciocavallo and of course the Provolone del Monaco DOP on their farm still made in the time honoured traditions passed down for generations.

Caciottine made before us
Originally from the province of Naples, the brown to black Agerolese cattle are widespread only in the hamlets of Agerola and Gragnano where the Provolone del Monaco was born. The breed is derived from crosses of  Friesian, Jersey and Brown cattle with the local indigenous population and is considered endangered by the FAO.  The locals will tell you the finest pasture in the world is not located among the  rainy Alpine valleys of Heidi , but,  under the sun of Punta Campanella, as these lucky cows well know as they crop the grass enjoying a beautiful panoramic view of Capri, Positano and the gulf of Naples. There are about three thousand heads of cattle who live in pastures which are completely unknown to the tourists of the Sorrento Peninsula. The cow produces modest amounts of high quality milk due to this unique and pristine environment of the area.

Italy is a quintessentially Old World country, a quilt of micro regions, each fiercely loyal to its own traditions and cuisines which means that it’s perfectly natural to expect your cheese to have been made locally that day. The taste of cheese made moments before is indescribable  This expectation has been woven so deeply into the fabric of daily life, by so many generations of cheese aficionados, that the market for it is guaranteed. And Italy is small enough that, if you do move a fresh product from one major city to the next, it takes only a couple of hours.

“Provolone del Monaco” has always been eaten by nobles who appreciated it for its full-bodied, soft, unmistakable and well defined taste. I managed to bring some home since I don't believe it is available outside of Italy. I replicated one of the local specialities in the Masse Lubrense area I had tried in Marina del Cantone.  Spaghetti con Zucchine  is a traditional dish all over the coast. You won't want to leave Nerano without having first savoured it's legendary spaghetti, served in a delicious zucchini, cheese and basil sauce. Many of the restaurants have this humble dish on their menu. In Nerano the dish takes on a richer and creamier flavour with the addition of caciocavallo or the Provolone del Monaco D.O.P we have talked about. It is one of the cult cheeses of the last few years in great demand by gourmets and its taste is really unmistakable. As I savoured my first taste of Italy I was serenaded with Italian love longs, one singing and the other translating. Now don't get your hopes up since some of these men were in their 70's with weather beaten, time-worn faces and tough strong hands. It occurred to me that they were local fishermen with voices like angels. It truly was a special introduction to my time on vacation. 

When in Italy it didn't take me long to discover that time moves at a measurably slower pace, allowing people around the tavolo (table) to savour every precious moment and taste sensation. The mentality in regards to cooking and food is that less is more. Of course this strictly refers to the quantity of ingredients and clearly not the amount consumed or the time you take to enjoy every single mouthful. The ingredients are often simple and few, but quality is paramount and emphasis is placed on tasting the individual flavours rather than being overwhelmed by varying ingredients. This approach of simplicity and embracing the moment can be seen in all aspects of Italian life.

The pizza oven is nearly as common in Italy as the barbecue, and virtually every village has at least one Pizzeria with a Forno a Legna. Here at home one way to ensure a reasonable pizza crust is by baking your creation directly on a hot pizza stone as I did per its manufacturers directions. The unglazed clay surface absorbs and distributes heat evenly, producing a crisp crust. The barbecue also works well to recreate that crispy perfection.

I wanted to honour the family for their kindness and generosity by creating something in my own kitchen. A calzone (Italian "stocking" or "trouser"), is an Italian turnover made from pizza dough and stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetables, or a variety of other stuffings. It is typically served with marinara sauce on the side for dipping. These calzones are in honour of Ferdinando Gargiulo and his wife Maria Cacace and their son Eugenio (who has been an invaluable source of information). Of course we cannot forget Lucio Esposito owner and chef of "Da Francesco" located in a beautiful eighteenth century building in the hamlet of Schiazzano and Benedetto De Gregorio of "Il Turuziello" (whose production of the "Provolone del Monaco DOP" is the pride of the whole farm) whose hospitality has not gone unrecognised.

My travels to countries such as Italy, Greece and Mexico have fostered my love of different cuisines whose flavours have greatly influenced the kinds of dishes I cook and recipes I develop. Through travel I have evolved as a cook because I've been exposed to many different foods and cultures; although the ingredients may not always be available close to home. Throughout my life I hope to continue to have the opportunity to spread my culinary wings and dive in full force.

Close your eyes, take a small bite and join me on this special journey through a stunningly beautiful area of the Sorrentine coast with a family that is passionate about their traditions. It was a wonderful experience! The beauty of the land, the flavour of the food, and the spirit of the people who were so welcoming was truly magnificent. If you want a break from the tourist trail, with fresh air, good food, and an interesting cross-cultural experience of meeting real people doing what they love, this experience will be for you. Just thinking about leisurely strolling through sun drenched groves, making pizza and tasting world=class cheeses puts a permanent smile on my face.

Lucio Esposito, Maria Cacace, Eugenio Gargiulo, Ferdinando Gargiulo and Benedetto De Gregorio (I love how grandma is "photo bombing"  the picture in the background)
This recipe makes enough for 1 large calzone that is cut into smaller segments. It is easily adapted to make small little hand held size pies as well. The pizza dough makes enough for 4 pizzas so this is when the freezer comes in handy. Non si vive di solo pane. (you don't live with just bread)

**Sweet Italian Sausage and Fennel Calzone**

Pizza Dough

(makes dough for 4 pizzas, each one about 12 inches in diameter):
600 mL of warm water
7 cups (1kg) flour, type “00″*
2.25 teaspoons (25 grams) yeast
6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar


4 ounces sweet Italian sausage
2 cups fennel bulb, thinly sliced (about 1 medium bulb)
1 1/2 cups red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
Pizza dough of your choice
2 cloves garlic crushed
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated sharp Provolone del Monaco cheese
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
Marinara sauce for dipping

*A note on the flour: In Italy, “00″, or “doppio zero,” flour is the most highly-refined and finest-ground flour available. Not available where you are (or too expensive?). An all-purpose flour should work almost as well!

For dough: Sprinkle the yeast into a medium bowl with the warm water. We don’t mean hot, and we don’t mean cold… we mean warm! That’s the kind the yeast likes best. Stir until the yeast dissolves.

Place almost all of the flour on the table in the shape of a volcano. (Think Mt. Vesuvius). Pour the yeast-and-warm-water mix, along with the other ingredients, into the “crater” of the volcano. Knead everything together for 10 to 15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic, keeping your surface floured.

Grease up a bowl with some olive oil and put the dough inside. Turn the dough around so the top is slightly oiled. Cover the bowl and put the dough aside to let it rest for at least four or five hours. (Optional for those who want their pizza really authentic). Make a cross on top of the dough with a knife. An old Italian tradition, this is seen as a way of “blessing the bread.”

Dump the dough out of the bowl and back onto the floured surface. Punch it down, getting rid of any bubbles. Divide the dough in half and let it rest for a few minutes. This dough would make 2 calzones so keep one tucked away in the freezer for future use.

For Calzone: Remove casing from sausage. Cook sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Add crushed garlic, ground fennel, sliced fennel, bell pepper, and onion. Cover, reduce heat, and cook for 9 minutes, stirring frequently. Cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Roll pizza dough ball into a circle. Combine egg and water with a whisk in a small bowl. Brush edge of circle with egg mixture; reserve remaining egg mixture.

Place sausage mixture on half of circle, leaving a 1-inch border, and sprinkle each with provolone cheese. Fold dough over sausage mixture until edges almost meet. Bring bottom edge over top edge; crimp edges of dough with fingers to form a rim. Place the calzone on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Brush tops with reserved egg mixture. Bake at 450° for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into wedges and serve with your favourite marinara sauce.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.
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  1. Aaahhh, I'd love to eat a pizza in Italy... Your calzone must be scrumptious. That is a winner combination.



  2. Valeria.. what nice happy friendly looking people:)
    Not camera shy..at all.

    Your calzones are making me crave them..I was going to ask if you froze some..as the dough make s a lot..
    They look amazing.
    We ate a lot of pizzas in Italy..and drank wonderful wines:)

    1. When you call me Valerie it makes me want to hop on the next plane and head to the Amalfi, Cilento and Tropea. They say you can't go back but there is so much more to experience.

  3. I think you experienced a lifetime of memories in your wonderful trip. The calzone looks amazing and I definitely need one of those pizza paddles!

  4. aah Val these make me hungry times ago I made calzones and I love them, these look georgeous I wil try this recipe:)

  5. the crust alone looks delectable, and that's not even taking into account the amazing filling! great post, val. :)

  6. Wow, look at you with that big pizza paddle! Delicious recipe. Love the inclusion of fennel!

  7. Now that's a serious pizza peel! It must be a big oven! Great crust on those calzone.

  8. What a super fun filling for calzones!

  9. I've changed my mind, I don't want to travel to these places - I just want to live vicariously through your beautiful stories.

  10. Now if we only all had a pizza oven in our homes too! Great little Calzone and great trip details. I adore Italy and long to return soon. Each area has its own speciality but you are right everything is much slower paced and relaxed and after living in hong Kong of few years, I think I want to retire in Italy where the people are genuine and loving and the food is beautiful. Take Care, BAM

    1. I recently saw a pizza oven that can be installed in the kitchen, but I don't know if anything could compete with the traditional woodfire ovens. I'd love to retire there as well.

  11. I wish I can go in the near future. I will probably gain 10 lbs in Italy. Your trip was amazing and I like that you are sharing the pictures and stories with us.

  12. What a pizza oven! Wouldn't it be fun to be able to cook pizza in something like that? Beautiful post, Val. You really give me the sense of what the area is like. Thanks for sharing.

  13. You continue to torture me with these tales. GREG

  14. Looks superb and experiencing the process of making mozzarella and baking it in a true stone oven is so cool.
    Missed you at the Wine Bloggers' Conference last weekend- while it was a one of a kind experience with all the excursions and events not everyone was so welcoming to food/travel bloggers such as myself.
    Looking to go to a food blogging conference next (although Seattle is already sold out!)- any that you have attended?


    1. Glad you enjoyed the Wine Bloggers Conference Murissa. I was working. I have been to BlogHer Food and Foodbuzz but my favourite was Eat, Write Retreat in Washington DC. Also there is the Canadian Food Bloggers Conference that was held in Toronto in April. BogHer Food is coming up in July in Chicago.

      Here is a list.


  15. What a fabulous post! You just took me some place that I've never been and will probably never experience except through your great story telling and pictures. A pizza in 90 seconds?! Really? I would love to try such a pizza. I bet it's as delicious as this calzone which I love! Great post, beautiful blog! Thanks for coming by mine and saying hello! I'll be back.

  16. Oh Val - I love this. :-) I LOVE the picture of you putting pizza in the oven. You look so beautiful and at peace. :-) Your crust looks so tender and delicious. Yum, yum, yum. :-)

  17. You make me want to have lunch at Naples 45, the only (I think) US pizza place certified as authentic Neapolitan style with thin crusts and wood-fired ovens. It's my most favorite pizza.

    Alternately you could send a few of those calzones my way.

  18. This must have been a wonderful holiday! This is a beautiful post, Val. The pizza looks delicious. I hope your weekend is off to a great start. Blessings...Mary

  19. Pizza and calzones - two delicious Italian foods but I can't imagine them tasting any better than in Italy! Great pics from your trip.

  20. I love having the dipping sauce.
    A lot of people don't do this--why I haven't a clue.
    Been a while since I've made calzones.
    I'm just not that great (confident rather) with bread making.

  21. Love this post and reading more about your incredible trip, Val! My parents always included fennel in their recipes for pizza and calzone in their Italian restaurant. Your calzones are making me so hungry right now!



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