The Difference Between Panzerottis And Calzones

Depending on where you're from, the term "portable pizza" may conjure up anything from large slices of New York-style pizza folded in half served on paper plates to the microwavable American elementary-school treat, Hot Pockets. While wildly different, both make eating pizza an on-the-go affair. However, these trends are rooted in a centuries-long Italian tradition of pizza-style street food.

Now, calzones are often the less-popular alternative to pizza at Italian-American restaurants. Calzones experienced a brief resurgence about a decade ago due to the much-loved yet awkward character Ben Wyatt in "Parks and Recreation," played by Adam Scott. However, calzones have a rich history dating back to 1170 as one of Italy's oldest street foods, writes Thrillist. The word calze means trousers in Italian, explains MasterClass. And the word calzone was inspired by the fact that you'd enjoy the pizza-like turnover while on the street, hopefully wearing pants.

Similarly, panzerotti are a Southern-Italian version of the pizza street snack. Unlike calzones, named for their function, panzerotti are named for their shape. The word pancia means belly in Italian. Panzerotti comes from the snack's semi-circle shape resembling a full belly (per Saveur). Beyond their names, the two portable pizza-like treats, calzones and panzerotti, have easily identifiable differences.


Panzerotti are smaller than calzones, explains Crust Conductor. Panzerotti are typically about the size of a sandwich, roughly nine inches long. Saveur likens the panzerotto to the empanada because of their similar structures: dough folded over filling, giving them a semi-circle shape. 

The story goes that panzerotti were first created by a baker from Salento — the bootheel region of Italy — looking for ways to use some leftover dough, says La Cucina Italiana. Panzerotti are prepared just like a pizza and use pizza dough but on a smaller scale. The dough is cut up into small balls and set to rise. Once flattened, the small dough rounds are topped like a pizza with tomato and mozzarella, then folded in half and deep-fried. The deep-frying gives panzerotti a crunchier texture than that of calzones. Originally, panzerotti were deep-fried in lard, but today's panzerotti recipes call for oil.

Traditionally, 18th-century panzerotti's filling included three kinds of cheese (buffalo, parmesan, and Caciocavallo) and a spiced savory combination of ham, hard-boiled egg yolks, parsley, and nutmeg (via Saveur). Now, typical fillings include tomatoes or tomato sauce and mozzarella. Other pizza toppings, such as cold-cut meats or veggies, are also often added. 

Panzerotti can also be sweet, writes MasterClass. Sweet panzerotti filings typically include chocolate ganache, hazelnut spread, sweetened ricotta, and jam. You can tell sweet panzerotti from the savory ones by their signature powdered sugar toppings.


Calzones are the larger, heartier sibling to panzerotti. Crust Conductor explains that if panzerotti are tarts, then calzones are turnovers. Though calzones originated as portable street food, today's Italian-American calzones are about the size of a medium pizza folded in half. Because of that, calzones are now a sharable sit-down food. Typically, calzones are cut into more manageable pieces and dipped in marinara sauce served on the side.

Unlike panzerotti, calzones are baked instead of deep-fried, giving them a softer and thicker texture. According to La Cucina Italiana, the ideal dough for calzones is bread dough, best if made using a sourdough starter. Once filled, the dough is folded in half and given an egg wash to help it seal. Traditional calzones don't include tomato sauce as a filling. 

The original Neopolitan calzones are filled with ricotta, provolone, and pecorino cheeses in addition to salami. Other regions and families have their own traditions and recipes that sometimes include sauce and other pizza toppings. Of course, modern calzones have strayed far from the original recipes. New styles of calzone include Hawaiian-style, BBQ chicken, and even a taco calzone, complete with ground beef, cheddar cheese, and onion.

The decision between enjoying panzerotto and a calzone is simple. Just ask, do I feel like sharing? If yes, go with the calzone. Invite your friends over to sit and stay awhile. If no, grab a panzerotto and hit the streets.