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What is a Calzone and Where Did it Come From?

A slice of pizza makes for a wonderful grab-and-go meal, but the calzone — a popular variant of pizza — is arguably even more portable and just as delicious.

Prepared similarly to the beloved pizza, calzones transform toppings into fillings when the sphere of dough is folded over before going into the oven. The result is a delicious half-moon shaped purse of pizza that can withstand a greater quantity and larger variety of add-ons.

Because of its utilitarian design, many assume that the calzone is an American twist on an Italian classic. While the United States has lots of love for the calzone, that’s not quite the case.

The Sauce is proud to present the origin story of the calzone and why you may want to order one when placing your next pizza delivery with Slice.

Yes, calzones are Italian.

The calzone is ubiquitous in American pizza parlors. Because they are roughly football sized and packed with cheese, one cannot be blamed for questioning its Italian roots. After all, Americans tend to supersize everything and our pizzas are decidedly cheesier than the ones first made in southern Italy.

The calzone may seem as American as apple pie, but its roots trace directly back to Naples, Italy, where the pizza was born. Roughly translated to mean “pants legs” in Italian, the calzone was built for the guy or girl on the go.

Traditionally, Neapolitans stuffed their calzoni with mozzarella, tomatoes and anchovies. But, as noted author Waverley Root wrote in ”The Food of Italy,” “there is no limit to the [calzone’s] possibilities.”

More than just portability.

That’s right, no limitations. Endless possibilities. If you can dream it, the calzone can achieve it.

After Neapolitans were blessed with the invention of calzoni, they soon realized these pockets were sturdy enough to hold hefty amounts of creative fillings. As Root noted, “One recipe [called] for chopped chicory hearts, unsalted anchovy fillets chopped fine, capers, pitted sliced black olives, currants, garlic, and an egg yolk.”

The structure of the calzone and the thickness of its dough create a safe harbor for a weightier blend of meats, cheeses, and vegetables. The thicker dough also gives bakers more leeway when it comes to moisture control. When making a pizza, bakers have to take the water content of toppings such as fresh mushrooms and certain cheeses into account, but the calzone takes much of that fretting out of the equation.

That’s why calzones in the United States are often filled with gobs of ricotta, a heavenly cheese that is too watery to be the bellcow of most pizza pies.

Baked or fried?

Calzoni can be baked in the oven for a beautiful outer char or fried for a crunchy and especially tasty crust.

In Italy, fried calzoni are most commonly known as panzerotti and trace their roots back to Apulia, which is located on the opposite coast of Naples. Elsewhere in Italy, you may find them billed as calzoni fritti (“fried calzones”) or pizze fritte (“fried pizzas”).

Here in the U.S., baked and fried calzones often share the same moniker, but the menu description will often indicate the method of preparation. Baked and fried calzoni are equally delicious, in our view, so we encourage you to locate and try both at a pizza place near you.

You may find that a fried shell takes your love of the calzone to a new level, or you may prefer the more basic baked variation. Rest assured, there’s no wrong answer here.

New Yorkers can find one of the most widely-praised baked calzones in the country at John’s of Bleecker St. Meanwhile, Forcella specializes in the Neapolitan tradition of flash-frying pizzas and does the same with its calzoni.

John’s of Bleecker stuffs its calzone with ricotta cheese and mozzarella and serves the marinara sauce on the side to avoid sogginess. Forcella, on the other hand, ladles in a smaller amount of tomato sauce to accent its fillings of smoked mozzarella, ricotta, and soppressata. You can’t go wrong with either, but good luck deciding on which one to eat first.

Calzoni: A great choice for every occasion.

In Naples, pizza pies are made to serve one person, so the calzones are naturally of the same size. In America, where the average pizza grew to nearly double the size, many calzones are large enough to feed multiple people.
So, if you’re looking to feed 2 or 3 people with your next order from Slice, a giant calzone would make a fine choice. If you’re eating by yourself, a giant calzone would make an equally fine choice. They say every pizza can be a personal pizza if you try hard enough, and the same thing applies to calzoni.