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Spicy Mega Football Calzone

Cook Time:
45 mins
Prep Time:
1 hr 30 mins

Chef notes

I love this dish because it takes my Italian heritage and melds with the all-American football tradition. You can prep a lot of it ahead and pop it in the oven right when guests start to come in. It's a huge crowd-pleaser — people go crazy for it. There are never any leftovers!

Swap options: You can use turkey or pork, or even Impossible ground meat to make it vegetarian. If you're in a pinch, you can buy store-bought marinara sauce, pizza dough or frozen meatballs; it's a huge timesaver. Buy store-bought pizza dough in the bakery section.


  • 1 small loaf stale Italian bread (about 8 thick slices) torn into 2½-inch chunks
  • 2 pounds 90% lean ground beef, broken up
  • 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • canola oil, for frying
Red Sauce
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Calabrian chile paste or crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 (35-ounce) cans tomato puree
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 6-8 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 2 (1-pound) packages prepared pizza dough, at room temperature
  • egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon water, beaten)
  • cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 4 tablespoons mascarpone
  • 3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley, divided
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3-4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


For the meatballs:


Put bread in a bowl and add enough warm water to cover. Let stand for 5 minutes, turning to moisten evenly. Gently squeeze out excess water.


Add beef, garlic, parsley, egg and 3/4 cup of Parmigiano to the bread and combine. Season with salt and pepper. Knead the mixture for at least 5 minutes with your hands, until uniformly combined and smooth.


Pinch a tablespoon of meat into your palms and shape into a ball. Place on a baking sheet and continue with the rest of the mixture.


Fill a 10-inch skillet 2 to 3 inches deep with canola oil and heat over high heat. When strands form along the bottom, lower 8 to 10 meatballs at a time into the oil. Do not overcrowd. They should be 3/4 submerged in oil. Reduce the heat to medium and fry for 6 to 7 minutes on each side, turning only once.


Remove the meatballs from the oil and turn the heat back up to high before starting the second batch.

For the sauce:

Warm olive oil in large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, add garlic and Calabrian chile paste, and stir for 30 seconds. Then add tomato puree, salt and pepper and basil, and stir. When it comes to a boil, lower to simmer, partially covered, for about 25 minutes.

Then add in meatballs and let cook for another 15 to 20 minutes at a low simmer. Turn off heat and let cool for 20 minutes.

For the calzone:


Preheat oven to 375 F.


Spread a teaspoon of olive oil on baking sheet, using your hands, spread one package of dough into a 15- by 12-inch rectangle on the baking sheet (it should be about the size of the baking sheet). Draw the outline of a football shape in the dough. Remove scraps and reserve.


Remove meatballs from sauce and cut them in half.


Spoon half of the meatballs inside of the football outline on top of the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Brush border with egg wash.


Sprinkle half of the mozzarella and half the Parmesan on top. Repeat with the remaining meatballs and remaining cheeses, creating a little more height in middle to create football shape.


Finally, dollop mascarpone on top along with half of the fresh parsley.


On a lightly greased surface, spread the remaining package of dough into a rectangle big enough to cover the meatballs. Place the dough on top of the meatballs and press the dough together around the meatballs. Cut out the football shape, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Tuck the edges underneath the dough to prevent any ingredients from leaking out.


Using the scraps, roll out two long ropes to make the lines for the football. Roll out one long rope about 8 inches. Place the rope lengthwise in between the two widthwise ropes. Roll out three 3-inch-long ropes. Place the ropes evenly apart on top of the 8-inch rope.


Microwave minced garlic and butter for 60 seconds and brush half of garlic butter mixture on top.


Place football calzone into oven and bake until golden-brown, approximately 45 to 55 minutes (be sure to check in on calzone 15 to 20 minutes into cooking; if it's too puffed-up, punch down a little with fork tines).


Do a final brush of garlic butter and garnish with remaining parsley.


Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes, then cut and serve with extra marinara sauce.