We all know pizza, one of the symbols of Italian cuisine around the world, but not everyone knows that there is another version of pizza, not cooked in the oven, but fried.
Fried pizza is widespread throughout Italy, especially in the central and southern regions, and has become one of the symbols of Italian street food: it should be eaten hot, wrapped in a paper cone, o’cuppetiello.
The dough of fried pizza is identical to the one of the classic Neapolitan pizza, with water, flour, little yeast, salt and oil.
The disc of dough is stuffed with various ingredients and deep fried in hot seed oil.
Local variations, pizza fritta, pizzonte and panzerotti
Usually the deep fried pizza has a crescent shape like the “calzone“. Each local variant has its own name and recipe: for example, in Apulia they are called “panzerotti”, stuffed with tomato and mozzarella. In Naples, where they are particularly popular, fried pizzas often contain a filling of ciccioli, obtained from the processing of pork fat in the preparation of lard and ricotta cheese.
In Sicily, in the province of Catania, the fried pizza (commonly called siciliana) is widespread, a fried calzone that in the classic version is stuffed with cheese and salted anchovies.
Another variation of the fried pizza is the “montanara“, a deep fried disc of dough topped (not stuffed) with tomato, mozzarella and basil. In Abruzzo and Molise they are called “pizzonte” and are often stuffed with salami and typical dairy products, while in Lazio they are often topped with sliced meats such as ham or loin.
The history of pizza fritta
Although the origins of this dish are unknown, fried pizza became particularly popular in Naples at the end of World War II, when the city, devastated by bombing, was in big trouble. Even Neapolitan pizza had become almost a luxury: to make it, you needed a wood-burning oven and then it had to be topped with mozzarella and tomato, which were often hard to find and expensive. It was needed something easy to make for those who had to sell it, and cheap for those who had to buy it. This is how the “fried pizza” became popular, also known as “pizza of the people” because it was sold in the streets by women to integrate the family economy after the war.
Deep fried pizza was seen as the poor sister of baked pizza. Famous was the “pizza a otto”, eaten immediately but paid for after eight days.
The idea of frying dough is certainly much older, as zeppole (or pettole), small pieces of deep fried dough, sometimes mixed with seaweed, are present in southern culinary traditions.
Documents relating to this particular food can already be found in the first book of Ippolito Cavalcanti, who referred to it in 1847 as “‘a zeppulella”. In this book, it was filled with marinated blue fish.
Sophia Loren’s deep fried pizza
The Neapolitan fried pizza and the period of its greatest splendour is illustratively documented in the episode “La pizzaiola” of the movie “L’oro di Napoli”, directed by Vittorio De Sica. In the movie a fried pizza seller is frantically searching for a ring that his unfaithful wife (Sophia Loren) pretends to have lost in the dough.
If you are on holiday in central or southern Italy, you cannot do without this mouth-watering version of pizza.