Carnevale Cometh: Calzone, Yum Yum

What of calzone? And its cousin panzerotti?

As cousins will often do, both look alike, except for size. And both end up seated at the communal table for celebrations like Carnevale.

Calzone comes from a Latin word, calceus, meaning shoe, and may have been in used in everyday speech beginning around 1170. Today, the accepted translation is “pant leg” or “trousers.”

One can just imagine farmers and laborers walking to the fields with a nice, warm calzone wrapped in a cloth and attached to a belt or parked in a trouser pocket, ready to be eaten on a chilly morning in early spring. Much as did Cornish miners with their Cornish pasties … .

For a very long time, modern cookbook authors writing in English never even write the word “calzone.” However, one of the very first cookbook writers ever, Maestro Martino, in his manuscript cookbook Libro de Arte Coquinaria, mentions something similar to calzone. Unlike modern cooks, cooks at the time of Maestro Martino filled their rose-water-scented caliscioni with marzipan.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, calzone first appears in American writing on September 20, 1944 in the New York Times, “One of the variations on the pizza is calzone a la napoletana.” British food writer Elizabeth David includes a recipe for calzone in Italian Food (1953):

Another Neapolitan specialty.  Make the same dough as for pizza Napolitana, and when it has risen roll it out very thin. Cut it into rounds about the diameter of a teacup; to one side of each lay a slice of ham and a slice of mozzarella (or Bel Paese) cheese; sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Fold over into a half-moon shape, press down the edges so that the ham and cheese are well enclosed. Cook in an oiled baking dish in the oven for about 20 minutes, or fry in deep, very hot olive oil.

Taking a pinch of a leaf from Mrs. David’s masterpiece, Samuel Chamberlain, in his eccentric 1958 work, Italian Bouquet: An Epicurean Tour of Italy, devotes one sentence to calzone: “Take calzone, for example: pasta [sic] turnovers containing lightly fried onions, olives, mozzarella cheese, capers, anchovies, baby mackerel, raisins, and beaten yolk of eggs.” That’s it. And American chef Alice Waters includes one recipe for calzone in her second cookbook, Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, Calzone (1984). She suggested using goat cheese.

But calzone’s been around for a very long time indeed.

Clifford Wright, a thorough and meticulous scholar of all things Mediterranean, offers some food for thought on the origins of calzone. Experts such as historian Luigi Sada suggest that around 1400, calzone appeared in Apulia. There this lowly dish – a pizza-dough round stuffed with ricotta and other ingredients – dominates festivities throughout the year. Some ponderers of calzone, like Chef Carlo Middione, believe that Arab origins account for the appearance of calzone in Italy. Fried pastries of Arab heritage – think sambusaks – may well be the ancestors of the fried (and later mostly baked) calzones of southern Italy. During the festivities of Carnevale, calzones surface more than usual.  The Apulian version flaunts the usual pizza-like dough, but the standard filling strikes out on its own: aged ricotta, sautéed red onions, grated pecorino cheese, anchovies, capers, and oil-cured black olives.

Baked in a wood-burning oven, of course. Ideally, of course.

And what of panzerotti? Therein lies another tale …

Apulia countryside view, rolling hills and green fields landscape. Poggiorsini, Bari, Italy Europe


1 lb. red onions, sliced, tossed in a bowl with 1 t. granulated sugar
2/3 cup olive oil
4 plum tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
8 oz. oil-cured black olives, pitted and halved
6 T. capers, rinsed and drained
3 anchovy fillets, chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
Salt to taste
1 1/2 cup well-drained ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese

1 recipe Pizza Dough (recipe below)

Olive oil, for brushing dough

In a 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet, sauté the onions over medium heat in half the oil until golden and caramelized. Add the tomatoes and the olives and fry gently for a few minutes to blend the flavors. Add the capers, anchovies, and parsley. Mix well and season to taste with salt. Cook 10 minutes more. Remove from heat and let cool.

Stir in the cheeses. Set filling aside.

Preheat oven to 475 F. Stir the cheeses into the cooled onion mixture. Form dough balls about the size of softballs. Roll out the dough until the rounds measure approximately 10 inches. Spread enough filling cover half the round, leaving about 1 inch uncoated around the edges. Brush the edges with water and fold the uncoated half of the dough over the filling. Press hard to seal the edges, then crimp the edges with a fork or turn over the edges toward the plump side of the calzone, making a sort of rope-like design along the length of the calzone.

Brush top of calzone with olive oil. Repeat process for all calzone.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes on a pizza stone or a lightly greased baking sheet. Serve hot with marinara sauce for dipping. Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

Italian Country Bread
Makes 3 loaves, up to 16 5-inch flatbreads, etc.

1 T. dry yeast
1 T. sugar
2 c. warm water
8-9 cups bread flour
1 T. salt
1/3 -1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil (I put more in when I am making pizza dough from this recipe)
Up to 2-3 c. additional water (more or less)

Proof the yeast in the water and sugar until bubbly.

Put flour and salt in large mixing bowl or Kitchen Aid mixer bowl or food processor; use dough hook.

Pour in yeast and extra water, and start mixing. When gluten strands (string-like) appear, add oil. Mix, add more water if necessary until dough is only slightly sticky. Knead 2-3 minutes in machine or until smooth. By hand this might take 10 minutes or so on a lightly floured board.

I usually give the dough a few kneads on the board even if I do the major part of the kneading in the machine.

Place dough in a large greased mixing bowl, flip over so greased side is up, and cover with a clean and very damp towel that has been wrung out.  Let dough rise until doubled.

Shape the dough into whatever you want. Let bread loaves rise, but pizza and focaccia don’t need a second rise.

For free-form bread, heat oven to 375 F and bake 30 minutes or so. Rolls, heat oven to 425 and bake 15-20 minutes. Pizza and focaccia, heat oven to 500 and let heat (with baking stone) for 1/2 hour. Bake pizza and focaccia about 15 minutes or until golden on edges, etc.

For focaccia, I “paint” the rolled-out dough with olive oil and then sprinkle with chopped fresh rosemary or other herbs, coarsely ground black pepper, and coarse sea salt.

I have rolled the dough out for pizza, covered with sauce and meat, and frozen it. Works pretty well, though not as well as freshly made unfrozen dough.


Pizza: Calzone & Foccaccia Cookbook, by Maxine Clark

Pizza Any Way You Slice It (Easy Recipes for Great Homemade Pizzas, Foccaccia, and Calzones), by Charles and Michele Scicolone


Luca Traversa
Photo credit: Luca Traversa

© 2022 C. Bertelsen

4 thoughts on “Carnevale Cometh: Calzone, Yum Yum

  1. Actually, you can thank the photographer, Andrew, who lives in Fredericksburg, VA. Click on the calzone picture to see more of his photos.

    That said, when I make calzone, the shape comes out pretty well. Most of the time, anyway!

    Thanks for reading “Gherins & Tomatoes.”

Comments are closed.