This recipe for Panzerotti, or mini deep fried calzones, stems from my great grandmother's recipe. She used to make them every year on Christmas Eve to accompany all the meat-free and seafood dishes on this holiday.
Since she passed away, my grandmother, my sister, and I have continued to make a lot of the things she used to make on holidays. We don't stick to a strict "Feast of 7 Fishes", like many other Italian families do, but we do eat a ton of seafood. Mostly shellfish.
The Christmas Eve menu consists of these mini calzones, linguini with white clam sauce, stuffed shrimp, crab cakes, mussels fra diavolo, lobster tails, and much more. We really go all out.
And even with all that delicious seafood I just mentioned, the majority of us look forward to the calzones the most. (OK, and maybe the lobster)
What are Panzerotti?
Panzerotti is the traditional name for what we know as mini deep fried calzones. They originated in Puglia, the very heel of Italy's boot, where they're enjoyed as street food. La Cucina Italiana reports that it was a "poor man's dish", often using leftover pizza dough and toppings to make the panzerotti. You can read more about the history of panzerotti here.
And though I call them "mini calzones," they're not really that small. They're just smaller than many of the more mainstream giant calzones people know here in the U.S.
These mini calzones' perfectly crispy golden exterior combined with their soft, gooey filling is really magical. The spicy tomato sauce on the side really takes them to a whole different level.
How to make Mini Deep Fried Calzones
Though the idea is simple enough, I don't like to claim that Panzerotti are "easy to make." That's because they involve deep frying. So if you're looking for an easy recipe you can whip up in 30 minutes, just keep scrolling. Panzerotti are absolutely a labor of love. That's why they're perfect for the holiday season. Here's how to make them:
- Let the pizza dough rise for an hour, then cut and form it into 16 balls, then let those rise for another 45 minutes.
- Make the cheese mixture and the tomato dipping sauce.
- Once dough balls have risen, roll out each ball, place a small spoonful of cheese filling in the center, and seal them well.
- Deep fry the calzones
- Serve the panzerotti with the spicy tomato dipping sauce on the side
In order to make this panzerotti recipe just a little easier, I call for 1 "roll" of pizza dough weighing around 1 pounds. This means you are free to use any pizza dough recipe you want. You can make it yourself or even buy it from your local grocery store or pizzeria.
Note that some dough recipes make larger rolls of dough. Additionally, some grocery stores sell larger pizza doughs. 1 lb of dough makes about 12 calzones, 1.5 lb of dough makes 16-18 calzones. Because of this discrepancy, the recipe makes enough filling for 18 calzones.
Because these mini calzones cook by frying in very hot oil, it's best to use a somewhat dry cheese filling. The recipe calls for 1 cup of whole milk ricotta cheese, ½ cup grated parmesan, and ½ cup low moisture mozzarella. Plus some seasonings.
The use of parmesan and low moisture mozzarella (dryer cheeses) to accompany the wetter ricotta cheese creates a paste-like filling. The little bit of moisture helps the cheese melt nicely. But the overall lack of moisture ensures that it doesn't splatter all over the kitchen if it sneaks out of a hole in the calzone dough.
Frying the Mini Calzones
It's important to deep fry the calzones. I've attempted pan frying these on several occasions, but it never works. Pan frying them usually leads to sticking and uneven cooking.
Both of these issues can cause the calzones to explode while frying. No one wants to eat an empty calzone!
Troubleshooting deep fried calzones
All this talk about frying brings me to my next point. There's only one thing that can go wrong while making these: They all pop open and splatter (even if non-agressively due too the low moisture filling) in the hot oil. Here are some ways to make sure this doesn't happen.
- Don't over-stuff the calzones. One tablespoon of filling per calzone is plenty. (you will have some filling left over.
- Don't roll the dough too thin. You shouldn't be able to see light through the dough when holding it up to a window.
- Seal the calzones by using a little water to help the edges stick together
- Keep the oil from climbing above 340 degrees Fahrenheit. Get an instant read thermometer to help regulate the oil temperature! (see below)
- If your ricotta is on the watery side and doesn't make a paste upon mixing the filling, add more parmesan and/or mozzarella to dry up the mixture.
- Baste the calzones in oil as they fry. This will help cook the top side that sticks out of the oil, so it doesn't bubble open and pop.
The Spicy Tomato Dipping Sauce
Because these fried calzones are a bit labor intensive, I call for the simplest tomato sauce possible. Just sauté some garlic and red pepper flakes, add a can of whole tomatoes, crush them with a potato masher, and let the sauce simmer for at least 30 minutes.
Equipment needed to make Deep Fried Calzones
These panzerotti, or deep fried mini calzones, are an Italian street food and in my family, a traditional Christmas Eve appetizer. I've been dying to share them with you! Enjoy!
- 1 lb pizza dough
- 2 Tb olive oil, to coat the dough
- 1 quart of corn oil or canola oil, for frying
- flour, for rolling and dusting surfaces
- salt, for seasoning finished calzones
For the filling
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta
- ½ cup finely grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
- ½ cup grated low moisture mozzarella
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- The zest of half a lemon (optional)
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- a pinch of Cayenne pepper
For the tomato dipping sauce
- 2 Tb olive oil
- 1 14 oz can of whole tomatoes
- 2 large cloves of garlic, diced
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- salt (to taste)
- Place dough in a bowl, coat it with olive oil, cover it with a dish towel, and allow it to rise at room temperature for about an hour.
- Once risen, form the dough into a long log shape, and cut it into 12 even pieces. Use your fingers to form each piece into a taught ball. Align dough balls on a floured baking sheet, and cover them with a towel for another 30 minutes.
- While the dough balls rise again, start the tomato sauce. In a small saucepan, heat olive oil and sauté garlic and red pepper flakes for 2 minutes. As soon as the garlic softens, but before it starts to brown, add the can of whole tomatoes. Mash tomatoes with a potato masher. Simmer for 30 minutes (or more) partially covered. Set aside until ready to eat.
- Make the calzone filling. Combine the ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, lemon zest, parsley, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a medium bowl.
- Make the calzones. Roll out each dough ball into a flat circle, place 1 tablespoon of cheese mixture in the center of each. Use your fingers to dab water around the outside of the circle. Then fold the dough over, press it shut, and pinch and curl along the edges to seal.
- Fry the calzones. Line a large plate with paper towels. Heat the canola oil in a medium 3-quart sauce pan until it reaches 300 degrees, then begin frying the calzones, 2 at a time, until golden brown all over. Place finished calzones on the paper towel lined platter and immediately dust each with a pinch of salt
- Serve the calzones alongside the spicy tomato sauce and indulge!
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