Calzones are traditional Italian stuffed breads. This calzone with sausage and broccoli rabe happens to be bursting with mozzarella, Parmesan, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Sorta like a folded-over pizza slice.
These calzones with sausage and broccoli rabe remind us of several different flavors we appreciate and respect all in tandem with one another in a little different fashion than a plain old pizza. The instructions may seem long but rest assured they’re simple and easy and full of step-by-step instructions. Not a terrible afternoon project. And, we assure you, quite a lovely dinner to follow.–Renee Schettler
Calzones with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe FAQs
What’s the difference between a calzone and a stromboli?
A calzone is a calzone is a calzone. Except when it’s not. On the East Coast, a similar pizza-like concoction of dough and cheese and other ingredient goodness is known not as a calzone but as a stromboli. It’s relatively common in Philadelphia and the surrounding area and it’s actually distinct from a calzone. As to the precise difference between the two, a calzone is what you’ll find here, in this recipe. It’s a sort of stuffed pizza of sorts. A stromboli is more rolled than stuffed (and, to be frank, it also seems more specific in terms of what ingredients it can or cannot contain). Whereas we like to play loose and easy with the ingredients depending on our mood and the contents of our fridge. We expect you’ll do the same.
What is broccoli rabe?
Broccoli rabe (or rapini) is a green cruciferous vegetable, like broccoli. However, it has quite a different flavor than regular old broccoli. Rabe is known for its slightly bitter taste and is associated with Mediterranean cuisine. The leaves, buds, and stems are all edible; the buds somewhat resemble broccoli but don’t form a large head.
Calzones with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
- Pizza stone or cast-iron skillets
For the dough
- Nonstick spray oil (optional)
- 4 cups bread flour plus more for the work surface
- 1 envelope instant yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for the bowl
- 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon warm water (about 110° F [43°C])
For the calzone filling
- 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese shredded (2 cups)
- 1 1/2 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 3/4 cup)
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon chopped oregano leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 8 ounces hot or sweet Italian sausage
- 12 ounces broccoli rabe
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon cold water plus more as needed
- 1/8 teaspoon table salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing the calzones
- Kosher salt
Make the dough
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the flour, yeast, and table salt to combine. Attach the bowl and dough hook to the mixer and, on medium-low speed, add first the olive oil and then gradually add the water in a slow steady stream, continuing to combine until a smooth, elastic dough forms, about 10 minutes.
- Lightly slick a large bowl with a little oil. Form the dough in a ball, dump it into the bowl seam side down, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap lightly slicked with oil or nonstick vegetable spray and let it rise in a warm spot until double in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Make the calzone filling
- While the dough rises, in a largish bowl, combine the cheeses, egg yolk, oregano, table salt, and black pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough is ready.
- Remove the casing from the sausage. Cook the sausage in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and breaking the sausage into 1/2 inch crumbles, until it's no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds or so.
- While the sausage cooks, wash and dry the broccoli rabe and trim the stalks about 1 inch below the leaves, discarding the ends. Cut the broccoli rabe crosswise into 1-inch pieces.
- Stir the broccoli rabe into the sausage and then add the water and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until the broccoli rabe is still slightly crisp yet almost tender and the water has evaporated, about 5 minutes. It may be necessary to add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to coax the broccoli rabe to almost tenderness.
- Dump the contents of the skillet to a paper towel-lined plate and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, pat dry with paper towels to absorb any excess moisture so your calzone isn't soggy.
Assemble the calzones
- Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and place a pizza stone or a couple cast-iron skillets turned upside down on the oven rack. Preheat the oven to 500 °F (260°C) for at least 30 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly slick it with oil.
- Turn the risen dough out onto an unfloured work surface. Divide the dough in half, and then cut each half into thirds. Gently shape each piece of dough into a ball. Move to the baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap that you've slicked with a little oil. Let the dough rest for at least 15 minutes but no more than 30 minutes.
- Cut eight 9-inch squares of parchment paper. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time and keeping the other pieces covered, roll the dough into a 9-inch round. Place the dough round on a parchment square and cover it with another parchment square. Roll out another dough ball, set it on top of the first dough round, and cover it with a parchment square. Repeat to form a stack of 3 dough rounds, covering the top round with a parchment square. Form a second stack of 3 rounds with the remaining dough balls and parchment squares.
- Remove the top parchment square from the first stack of dough rounds and place it on the work surface. (If the dough rounds have shrunk, gently roll them out again to 9-inch rounds.) Spread 1/6th of the ricotta mixture on the bottom half of each dough round, leaving a 1 inch border plain. Place 1/6 of the sausage mixture on the cheese filling.
- Fold the top half of the dough over the filling-covered bottom half, leaving 1/2 inch border uncovered. Gently place your fingertips on the top layer of dough and press ever so slightly to let any air escape. Beginning at one end of the seam, place your index finger diagonally across the edge and use your thumb to gently pull the bottom layer of the dough over the tip of your index finger, and press the dough to seal. Repeat the process until the calzone is fully sealed. With a very sharp paring knife or razor blade, cut 5 slits, each about 1 1/2 inches long, diagonally across the top of the calzone, making sure to cut through just the top layer of dough and not completely through the calzone.
- Slide the calzones and their parchment onto a pizza peel or an upside-down baking sheet and then slide them onto the hot pizza stone or the bottom of the cast-iron skillets. (You'll probably need to bake the calzones in batches. Typically 2 will fit on a baking stone.) Bake until the calzones are golden brown, about 15 minutes.
- Carefully slide the parchment and calzones onto the pizza peel or upside-down baking sheet and transfer to a wire rack. Remove the calzones from the parchment and, if you can resist diving straight in, let them cool for 5 minutes.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
These calzones with sausage and broccoli rabe were a great hit for Mother’s Day dinner this year. All the guests quickly devoured their calzones and asked for the recipe before they left. The preparation was time-consuming but the end result was well worth the effort.
Excellent recipe. Very happy with the results. This recipe takes some time and planning but is not difficult and the flavors are delicious. The dough came together and was easy to work with. And the filling was well-seasoned and what could be better than sausage, broccoli rabe, and Italian cheeses!
The calzones are large and the filling is plentiful. I do recommend serving with tomato sauce on the side. I love this type of recipe, it lends itself very well to substitutions or personal taste (ie seasonal vegetables). The addition of salt to the finished calzone was also very good.
My only negative, I picked a very hot day to make the calzones, the oven needs to be very hot and the kitchen was overheating. Making my case for an outdoor pizza oven.
Since sausage and broccoli rabe are a classic combo, how could this recipe not be a hit? Well, it was indeed. The dough was easy to work with, the cheese blend was delicious, and the filling was really tasty.
Dough can be challenging but the directions were clear and it came together quite easily. It only took 6-7 minutes for my dough to come together and get nice and smooth. It doubled in about 1 1/2 hours and was nice and supple. Most of the rest of the recipe was relatively straightforward. When cooking the broccoli rabe, the recipe says to let the water evaporate but I found it just kept expelling more liquid. So I pulled it off the heat, figuring if I waited it would be beyond use.
My other issue with the recipe was the direction to take 1/6 of the cheese mix and 1/6 of the filling…I’m not good at eyeballing that kind of thing and I seriously thought of putting it on my scale and measuring it exactly. But I thought that might be a little too over the top, so I went ahead and guesstimated. The result was that the last two calzones were really stuffed – not a bad thing, necessarily. But it would have been much more helpful if the recipe said 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup rather than 1/6 of the whole.
The directions at the beginning of Step 8 were definitely confusing and, as I said, overly complicated to me so I didn’t bother to follow them (That was hard for me because I’m typically a rule follower and so I rarely stray from the recipe when I’m testing.). Overall, these were minor issues on the way to baking these wonderfully crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, full-of-flavor calzones.
While this wasn’t a quick meal I would recommend making on a weeknight, it was a fun project for an afternoon with delicious results. Everyone absolutely loved these, so I would say they were well worth the work.
My stepdaughter’s boyfriend was over for dinner and he took a picture to send to his mom to show her that “she needs to step it up a notch.” LOL! The calzones are quite big, so they can be cut in half for smaller appetites.
I don’t have a pizza stone or a cast-iron skillet large enough to cook more than 1 at a time, so I baked mine on an aluminum pan instead. I really liked this method as I was able to fit all 6 on one full-size baking sheet and cook them in one batch. I didn’t preheat the baking pan but simply increased the baking time to 26 mins and they turned out perfectly—nice and crisp on the bottom and evenly browned.
My dough took 2 1/2 hours to double. The sausage I use doesn’t have a lot of excess fat, so I added 2 teaspoons of oil to the pan first. While an unfloured work surface was ok to divide the dough and shape into balls, it was impossible to roll the dough into a 9 inch round on an unfloured surface. I tried the first one this way, and it was sticking to my counter and rolling pin. With a lightly floured surface and rolling pin, it was no problem to roll the dough out to a 9-inch round.
This is an excellent recipe. The dough is spectacular and the filling is delicious. The amounts are perfect to make 6 large calzones. Although the recipe appears long, most of it is detailed explanations that really help you make the perfect calzone. Much of the work is done while the dough is rising. The fact that the dough is kneaded in your mixer makes this homemade treat very simple.
I used sweet sausage. The broccoli rabe cook time was spot on. Sealing dough directions were great! Very clear and easy to do. Love this method. I filled and pinched two at a time, then while they were baking on my stone, I made two more. They were beautifully browned and done in 10 minutes.
Initially, I was concerned that the bitterness of the broccoli rabe would take over, but it didn’t and added a touch of flavor and color. You could easily use spinach in its place. I served them with a spicy marinara and they were to die for!
The recipe made 6 large servings (that were so good you WANT that big serving).
My previous experience with calzones comes mainly from Italian takeout. The calzones of my childhood were filled only with cheese and the mozzarella was so thick and dense, I found it inedible. With a balance of cheese, meat, and vegetables, this recipe has completely changed my opinion on calzones. Although there were quite a few steps involved, a lot of the work can be done while the dough is rising, saving time overall.
I could see the broccoli rabe easily being swapped out for regular broccoli or romanesco. I think lamb could also work with well.
I used a mix of sweet and hot sausages = 2 sweet + 1 hot. The dough was very sticky at first and I was worried there was too much liquid but it firmed up nicely. When making the sausage, I didn’t have a nonstick skillet so I added oil when cooking the sausage.
The instruction of sealing the dough was unclear. I placed my index finger ON TOP of the top layer of the dough and used my thumb to pull the dough from underneath and seal.
Originally published June 18, 2004