Almost like delicious little handheld folded pizzas, panzerotti are typical Southern Italian fried turnovers with a savory filling. Made with pizza dough, these turnovers are stuffed with creamy mozzarella and tomato sauce for this classic recipe before being fried to perfection.
What is panzerotti?
Basically, panzerotti is fried dough that has been stuffed with different fillings. The dish was born in Southern Italy and can be found in the region of Lazio all the way down to the southernmost tip of Italy. But in recent years it has been rediscovered by the greatest pizza chefs in Italy and in the largest Italian pizza restaurants around the world.
Today it’s considered a modern street food that is also called a calzone by some. Yet, while panzerotti is very similar, the two dishes do have differences. For example, while panzerotti is made with pizza dough that is rolled out into circles, stuffed with different fillings, and then folded over to form a half-moon shape just like calzones, panzerotti are typically fried and calzones are typically baked. Also, panzerotti tends to be smaller while calzones are usually twice the size.
Of course, you will find panzerotti that are baked and a fried calzone, but it’s not as common. I’ve even included instructions on how to fry and bake panzerotti.
Where did panzerotti originate from?
The history of the panzerotto goes back hundreds of years to the 16th century. Historians agree that its origins can be traced to the peasant cuisine of Puglia when a baker from Salento started making folded-over pizzas with leftover dough to ensure that nothing went to waste. Panzerotti quickly became a very popular poor man’s meal and is a great example of how peasants during that time used every last scrap.
What do you need to make this recipe?
Bowls – You’ll need a few different size bowls to make the filling and dough.
Rolling Pin – Needed to roll the dough into rounds to form the Italian turnovers.
Large Heavy Frying Pan – A deep skillet is needed for deep frying.
Slotted Spoon – Helps to safely remove the panzerotti from the hot oil once they are fried.
Baking Sheet – Needed if you choose to bake your turnovers instead of frying them.
What ingredients do you need to make this recipe?
Lukewarm Water – Used as needed to activate the yeast and make the dough. The water must be lukewarm. If it is too cold or too hot the yeast will not work.
4 cups / 500 gr Flour – Simple all-purpose flour is all you need to make this panzerotti recipe. Bread flour is also another option.
½ Stick Brewer’s Yeast – Used as a leavening agent to help the dough rise and make it soft.
0.27 floz / 8 milliliters Olive Oil – Always use Italian extra virgin olive oil for the most authentic taste.
1.67 tsp / 10 gr Coarse Salt – Used to season the dough. Sea salt and kosher salt are both good options.
1.25 tsp / 5 gr Sugar – Just a bit of granulated sugar is needed to help activate the yeast.
Sunflower Oil – You will need some sunflower oil or other type of flavorless vegetable oil for frying.
0.55 lb / 250 gr Mozzarella Cheese – You will need a ball of fresh mozzarella cheese. Ideally, choose buffalo mozzarella for the best flavor.
0.38 cups / 100 gr Tomato Puree – Tossed together with the mozzarella to make the filling. You could also use leftover marinara sauce.
Salt – A pinch of salt is needed for the filling.
Dried Oregano – Adds another layer of flavor to the filling. Dried basil is also delicious.
How to make panzerotti step by step
1. Make the filling
To begin, slice the fresh mozzarella into small cubes photo 1. If your cheese is a little runny you can put it in a colander in the sink for a few minutes to let it drain and then pat it dry.
Then put the cheese in a medium-sized bowl along with the tomato puree photo 3 and gently mix them together until the cheese is covered in tomato photo 4. Next, add a bit of salt and dried oregano to taste. Now, cover the filling mixture and put it in the fridge for a later step.
2. Make the dough
To get the dough started, you need to dissolve the yeast in a little lukewarm water in a large bowl photo 5-6.
Next, stir in the sugar. Then add the flour to the yeast mixture but don’t mix yet photo 8.
Now, in a separate small bowl, combine 1½ cups of warm water together with the coarse salt until it has dissolved photo 9-10.
Finally, pour the salt water over the flour and mix everything together photo 11-12.
3. Knead the dough
As you mix the ingredients together to form the dough you can add more water if needed. But you don’t want the dough to be too sticky. If it is then you will need to add more flour until you have an even consistency photo 13-14.
Then add the olive oil photo 15 and knead the dough until it is soft and smooth photo 16.
4. Let the dough rest
Once the dough is made, divide it into 10 small balls that are about the same size photo 17. Then put the dough balls on a cutting board or on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and then cover them with a clean dish towel photo 18. Now, let the dough rest for about 2 hours or until all the balls have doubled in size.
5. Form the panzerotti
After the dough balls have doubled in size you can start making the panzerotti photo 20.
First, use a rolling pin to roll out the balls of dough into small circles on a lightly floured work surface photo 22.
Next, place a spoonful of the filling in the center of each piece of dough photo 23. Then fold the dough over to form a half-moon shape photo 24.
Now, lightly press the edges of the dough together with a fork or your fingers to tightly seal the turnovers photo 25-26.
6. How to fry the panzerotti
For safety reasons, it’s important that you do not heat the oil until you are ready to fry. Then grab a large deep skillet big enough to comfortably fit the oil and the turnovers. Keep in mind, you will need to fry the panzerotti in batches. Now, heat a generous amount of sunflower oil over medium-high heat in the skillet. Then once the oil is hot add some of the panzerotti to the hot oil and then fry them on each side for about 1 to 2 minutes or until they are golden brown and crispy photo 27-28.
Then remove them from the hot oil with a slotted spoon and place them on a paper towel-lined plate so that the excess oil can drain.
7. How to bake the panzerotti
Panzerotti are most often fried, but it is possible to bake them as well. To begin, preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F. Then put the panzerotti on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Next, mix a little bit of tomato puree together with some olive oil and salt in a small bowl. Then spread a spoonful of that mixture over each panzerotti. Now, transfer the baking tray to the oven and bake the Italian turnovers for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Always use Italian extra-virgin olive oil, a high-quality tomato puree, and fresh mozzarella for the best outcome.
If your mozzarella is a little watery or runny after it’s been chopped into cubes you need to drain the excess moisture.
If the dough seems too sticky add a little more flour, but if it seems too dry add more water.
You must let the balls of dough rest covered for about 2 hours to double in size. If you don’t, your panzerotti will turn out dense.
Do not overstuff the turnovers. If you do, you won’t be able to close them or they can also burst open when they are cooking.
Dip your finger in a bit of water and run it along the edge of the dough to help seal the turnovers.
Do not crowd the pan when frying. They will not cook evenly if you do and it’s also not safe when working with hot oil.
The original panzerotti filling only included tomato, mozzarella, and oregano. However, over time, all kinds of ingredients have been added such as olives, anchovies, onions, cooked ham, and capers. And although lesser-known, there are also sweet panzerotti which are usually made for special occasions like Carnival. For sweet varieties, some fillings include jam, honey, chocolate, or gianduia, which are often then sprinkled with a dusting of powdered sugar.
Other recipes to try out:
What’s the difference between calzones, panzerotti, and stromboli?
While all these Italian stuffed doughs may seem exactly the same there are some differences. To begin, calzones and panzerotti are shaped like little half-moons that almost resemble a taco or empanada. But stromboli is like a long rolled-up log of stuffed pizza dough. Also, panzerotti tends to be fried, yet calzones and stromboli are baked.
What should I serve with panzerotti?
Can I cook panzerotti in an air fryer?
Yes! Panzerotti can also be cooked in an air fryer. Simply prepare the turnovers by following the instructions in this recipe until it comes time to cook them. Then lightly brush them with olive oil, place them in the air fryer basket, and cook them in batches at 325°F / 165°C for 12 minutes or until golden, turning once.
How big are panzerotti?
Panzerotti are typically smaller than calzone, but they come in every size from tiny finger food size panzerottini that are served during happy hour to the medium-sized panzerotti found in bakeries. You can even find gigantic fried panzerotti that are so big they fill the entire plate and can sometimes be enough for two people.
How to store?
Panzerotti will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days in an airtight container. You can also store them in the freezer for up to 3 months. The leftovers can be eaten cold or heated in the microwave or in the oven.