Having grown up in California, I’ve always been bemused by the idea of deep-fried food having anything in particular to do with the seaside. In Britain, fish and chips is almost synonymous of the seaside and in Italy a nice fritto misto (battered and deep-fried mixed seafood) is often a highlight of coastal restaurants’ menus. Seaside Naples is the king of frittura (deep-frying) where deep-fried street food is taken to a whole new level. Friggitoria (deep-fried food shops) offer a selection of deep-fried pasta (frittina di pasta), potato croquettes (crocchè), rice croquettes (arancini or supplì), salt cod (baccalà), anchovies, aubergine, courgette/zucchine, polenta (scagliozzi), dough (pasta cresciuta or zeppoline), courgette/zucchini flowers (ciurilli), prawns, calamari and last, but definitely not least, panzarotti (pizza turnovers).
Historically, it was rare to have an oven at home and food to be baked was brought to the baker to be placed in the oven. Everyone could deep-fry however, so fried pizza was more accessible than baked pizza. One only needs to see the inevitable crowd of people around a shop making panzarotti to witness its universal appeal. When a hot panzarotto, wrapped in paper, is placed in your waiting hand, it seems like an eternity until its molten filling is cool enough to not risk a scalded tongue. The fried dough on its own would be intoxicating enough but the tangy tomato and creamy, oozing cheese filling puts this snack at a completely different level.
Panzarotti (deep-fried pizza turnovers)
The filling proportions were given to me by my chef friend, Emanuele, and produce a perfect creamy to tangy contrast. It is also perfectly acceptable to add ricotta or smoked provola cheeses, egg, parsley, salami or prosciutto. For step-by-step illustrated instructions, click here.
500 grams 00 flour
150 ml milk, tepid
150 ml water, tepid
12 grams fresh yeast or 6 grams active dry yeast
15 ml extra-virgin olive oil
10 grams salt
12 mls bechamel sauce
120 mls tomato sauce (add 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
120 grams mozzarella
40 grams Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
Mix the flour, milk, water, yeast, salt and olive oil together, being careful to keep the salt and yeast separate until well mixed. Form a ball and let sit covered in a bowl for 20 minutes. Turn the dough out on the greased surface and pull each side and fold it into the middle (see technique here). Turn the ball over onto the folded ends and place back in a bowl and cover for half an hour. Repeat pulling the sides again and place back in the bowl as before, covered for half an hour. Divide the dough into 8 evenly sized pieces and roll out into rounds.
Fill each round in the centre with 15 mls bechamel sauce, 15 mls tomato sauce, 15 grams mozzarella and 5 grams Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Fold the dough over and crimp the edges to form a crescent.
Place some kitchen paper on a plate. Heat olive oil or peanut oil to 180/190C. Add 1 or 2 at a time and cook for 1-2 minutes, until golden, turn over with a perforated spoon and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Remove with a perforated spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat until all the dough is finished. When cool enough, eat immediately.