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Raw Dough Carbs: Playing for Pizza, Calculating for Calzone


Calzone–one of my favorite Italian dishes–is extremely easy to make once you’ve got some basic pizza or bread dough risen and ready to shape. Flatten out individual rounds of dough, mix up a ricotta-based or roasted vegetable filling, fill and fold the dough over into half-moons, crimp the edges, brush with olive oil, and bake on a sheet in a hot oven until they’re puffed and golden. A satisfying but fairly light supper dish, especially if you have a good thick spicy tomato sauce to go with it and a salad on the side.

But even if you don’t, they’re a good consolation on a Sunday night for a kid with frustratingly advanced math homework the teacher didn’t quite prepare himself or the class for (11th-grade precalculus techniques popping up in a sheet of homework for 11-year-olds? The dangers of pulling your homework handouts from a math site on the internet. I keep reminding myself that he’s young yet). All I can say is, you know you’re in trouble when the heartburn is coming from the homework and not the food.

Grrrr. I’m almost over it. Anyway, here’s a much easier calculation trick that doesn’t require factorials…

The trick about making dinner from homemade dough is that the kid in question is diabetic and needs to know how many grams of carb she’s going to get in her calzone. Pizza, calzone, any kind of handmade entrée with dough plus noncarb ingredients, is tricky to calculate carbs for because you can’t easily tell by eye how much bread you’re getting in a serving. Check out any of the commercial pizza companies’ nutrition stats per slice–they’ll often state carbs as a range rather than a set value. How thick the dough is, how large the slice, etc, can really throw things off. Most people don’t need to know more precisely than “35-50 grams per slice”, but diabetics really do. Fifteen grams is a pretty big variation.

So how do you deal with it at home? If you’re making lasagne or stuffed shells or spanakopita, you can calculate the carb by counting the noodles or sheets of fillo dough you use and looking on the package nutrition label, then figuring a total carb count for the tray and dividing by the number of portions. A little tedious, but manageable.

Bread that’s already baked is also easy enough to calculate for–just weigh it out on a food scale in grams and figure 50 percent carb by weight. Most nonsweetened bread is pretty consistent, whatever density its texture. Weigh out a 70-gram piece of bread, and you’re usually looking at 35 grams of carb.

But for calzone or pizza you’re dealing with a bowl of wet dough to start, and once the dish is baked, it’s got lots of other stuff on or in it so you won’t be able to weigh it cooked and really know what carbs you’ve got. You need to test a portion of your raw dough, only raw dough is heavier than it will be once baked. Depending how wet the dough is, the proportion of carb could vary from a little less than half to a lot less.

Weighing a sample of raw dough to figure carbs after baking

Weighing a sample of raw dough to figure carbs after baking

The only thing to do is test a bit of dough by weighing it out raw, then reweighing it once it’s baked. Doing this in a conventional oven just for a single test ball of dough can be time-consuming unless you’re already heating it for the main event. Still, you want to get ahead with making the actual calzone so dinner will be sometime before midnight.

Enter the microwave. Yes, really. A nectarine-sized ball of dough, say 100 grams raw weight, will cook through lightly in 40-50 seconds in the microwave if you put it on a saucer and punch the “nuke” button. It’ll still be white and pale, but it’ll have risen fairly well to the size of a large dinner roll and won’t have gooey raw spots (you can check by breaking it open, just watch out for steam). Then just pop it in the toaster oven for about 5 minutes and it’s browned and baked through. When you reweigh it, you’ll know how much a 100-gram ball of your dough weighs cooked, and then figure 50 percent of that weight for carbs.

Aside: This nuke-and-toast scheme works pretty well for making a fast sandwich roll from a bowl of dough in the fridge. When I first came up with the idea, it was with great reluctance, because my only previous experience with microwaving bread had been the horrible, horrible mistake of microwaving a bagel for more than 20 seconds. It plasticized. Rubber tires had nothin’ on it. Inedible. But raw bread dough has enough water in it to steam without rubberizing the starches, as long as you don’t overdo it–really, 40 seconds should be plenty. When you toast it, it’ll brown with a crisp light crust. Not ideal for a whole loaf–it’s still best eaten hot and might be a little chewier than if baked conventionally for 20 minutes–but pretty good for a 5-minute sandwich roll fresh from the oven.

Back to the matter at hand: In the case of the dough I made for last night’s calzone, a 100-gram ball of dough lost 10 percent after microwaving (weighed 90 g) and 20 percent of its weight after microwaving and toasting until browned, at 80 grams.

So a 100g ball of the dough I used last night is worth about 40 grams of carb once it’s fully baked. And it’s also a pretty good size for rolling into a 6-7 inch diameter circle for an individual, not oversized, calzone. The filling carbs might be about 3-4 grams per calzone using ricotta and feta as the filling, so I was able to give my daughter the heads-up and let her figure out what else she’d want for dinner before they were finished baking.

When the calzone were done, I slid each of them onto a plate and cut them in half to let off the steam. We all gave the calzone the thumbs-up at dinner, and the true test–blood glucose a couple of hours later–proved out the dough carb calculation trick pretty well too.

Now if only we could do that with the math homework. Where, oh where are my Tums?

Calzone filled and ready for baking

Ready for baking

Calzone for Supper

Bread dough (white, whole wheat, pizza dough, store-bought at Trader Joe’s, whatever)–let it rise decently in a covered bowl in a warm part of the kitchen before weighing out portions.

Olive oil for the baking sheet and brushing over the calzones

Cheese filling:

  • Skim or part-skim ricotta, about 1/3 c. per calzone. DON’T substitute cottage cheese–it’s way too salty for what it is and doesn’t hold up well, plus it’s a pain to drain off the liquid part.
  • Feta cheese (or mozzarella, your call, but it makes a runnier filling though good) chopped or crumbled, about a 1″ cube per calzone, or to taste (note: if you’re gone vegan, use your own preferred substitute or just layer some roasted eggplant, pepper and/or onion on the dough with the tofu spread)
  • garlic, minced/mashed/grated, to taste (1 clove for 3-5 servings seems good)
  • finely chopped onion, raw or browned, optional
  • Herbs: about 1 T for 4 calzone of fresh or 1/2 t. dried Italian herbs–basil (best fresh), thyme, oregano, maybe a little dill or sage as desired. A pinch of fennel seed and hot pepper (both optional) is good with this or with roast vegetable fillings plus cheese (see variations below)

Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Weigh out 100-gram balls of well-risen dough (or if you’re not counting carbs, a reasonable chunk 2-3 inches across, about the size of a nectarine or small apple) for individual calzones. I weigh out by cutting a likely looking chunk with a serrated steak knife and lifting it out of the bowl onto a piece of plastic wrap or a saucer that’s already been weighed and zeroed on the food scale. Try not to deflate the dough badly when you handle it (for baking reasons, not carb reasons…)

Dust the balls of dough with flour and lightly roll or stretch out into circles about 6-7 inches across. Let them rest on an oiled baking sheet or foil. Mix the cheese filling by hand and pat a good-sized scoop of it onto half of each round, leaving a quarter-to-half-inch margin of dough around the outside. If you’re adding roasted sliced vegetables, put those down first. Fold the dough over the filling to form a half-moon shape and pinch the edges together, then curl the bottom edge up and over the top edge and crimp it. Lay each calzone onto the foil or sheet if it isn’t already, and brush the tops with olive oil. Bake about 20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. To remove from foil without breaking them too badly, slide a big flat metal spatula, cake/pie server or a wide-bladed chef’s  knife under each calzone to loosen it and lift up gently onto serving plates. Cut in half to let the steam out if you’re serving straight from the oven, Serve with marinara if you’ve got it, or a dab of pesto, or just as-is.

Filling variations:

Spinach or broccoli or cauliflower with cheese–microwave the vegetable of choice a couple of minutes –frozen spinach can be microwaved on an open plate until just hot through, 4-5 minutes for 1 lb. loose-frozen spinach, then squeezed well. For a stalk of broccoli or a quarter or so of a cauliflower–cut into florets, put them in a lidded container with 1/4 inch of water in the bottom, shake to get some droplets on the top surface of the vegetables, and microwave 2-3 minutes or until fork tender. Drain and mash or blend with cheese filling (ricotta-less feta or mozzarella with some garlic and herbs and/or fennel and hot pepper flakes   is okay too)

Marinated artichoke hearts and cheese–drain artichoke hearts well, chop, and add to the basic cheese or vegan cheese filling. Feta and Greek olives and fresh basil and/or thyme go very well with this–as do fennel seeds.

Vegan cheese-like filling–sub in tofu with the water pressed out of it and then crumbled. For a faster, neater way to press the water out, slice a block of tofu into cubes and microwave them on a plate for 2-3 minutes on HIGH. Then drain them well and crumble them. Add herbs, garlic and onion, vegetables, etc. as desired. Just make sure the filling is not wet so the dough doesn’t get soggy.

Roast vegetable fillings–use a few slices of this microwave-roasted eggplant, pepper and onion salad plus ricotta and/or basil leaves, or just feta or mozzarella, or vegetables plus thick homestyle hummus, or with fennel seed and hot peppers, or with pesto, or with those flavorings plus some cheese…just as long as the fillings aren’t really wet.

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