Meet Italy's Crispy, Deep-Fried Cousin Of Neapolitan Pizza

Just when you think we've gotten to the heart of Italian pizza here in the States, another delectable variety comes on our radar — and this one may surprise you. We all know Neapolitan pizza, a simple pie made with a thin crust and fresh ingredients. But during World War II, the Italians made a similar, lesser-known yet equally delicious version of the dish called pizza fritta, or fried pizza.

Depending on which type you make, either the dough or the whole pizza gets deep-fried in oil after it's been shaped into large circles. You can still go crazy with any toppings you'd like, just as with regular pizza. According to many Italians, this fried version is as delicious with savory add-ons as it is with sweet ones. In calzone-like fashion, you can even stuff it with your favorite ingredients instead of making a thinner, flatter pie. Since its original creation all the way through to today, pizza fritta has been offered as a street food because the lack of oven involved makes it simpler to cart around. The dough is fried, so it's lighter and fluffier than your typical pizza, and it may give your favorite Neapolitan pie a run for its money.

Pizza fritta was originally a Neapolitan street food

While fried food is nothing new in Italy (they've been making fritti since ancient Rome), pizza fritta may be a relatively recent phenomenon. It is believed to have been invented during World War II, when regular pizza ingredients were much more difficult to come by. Instead of a standard pie, bakers' wives would sell their fried dough creations on the street to make some extra money. This was especially convenient considering that the war obliterated many of the ovens in Naples, a device unnecessary for frying pizza. The original pizza fritta also used some of the cheapest ingredients available during the war — think pork cracklings, anchovies, and artichoke stems.

However, it's possible that the fried pizza's roots go back even further than World War II, and the early 20th century was just the first time this specific variety emerged as popular. In the 16th century, pie makers' wives in Naples allegedly sold leftover dough as fried snacks on the street. These earlier iterations were made with everything from cod to bluefish to honey. As time passed, the toppings and fillings have evolved to include pricier ingredients.

How to make pizza fritta

We know that pizza fritta is made without an oven, and can be done on the street, but how exactly is it created? It depends on whether you're getting a traditional pizza or a calzone. For the former (also called pizza fritta montanara, since it originated in the mountain region surrounding Naples), you'll want to make your dough similar to that of a regular pizza. Stretch out the dough balls into circles after chilling them, then fry them in just under an inch of hot vegetable oil on the stove. Going one at a time, let the dough sit in the oil for up to five minutes, either flipping it halfway through, or spooning oil on top so that the whole thing gets covered. Once your crust is done, you can add all your toppings and eat it right away, or throw the whole thing in the oven for a few minutes if you'd like the cheese to melt some more.

If you're making a calzone, you'll want to add the toppings before you deep-fry everything. After forming the dough balls into circles, place your meat, veggies, and cheese in the center and fold one side over like a dumpling, pressing the edges together — then the whole calzone can get deep-fried. With both types of fried pizza, be sure to drain the finished results on a paper towel to remove excess oil before digging in.

Pizza fritta can be sweet or savory

While it's less common to see sweet toppings on a pizza in the States, you can fully expect to find a pizza fritta that appears more like a dessert than a savory treat when you're in Italy. The add-ons are typically fairly simple — you may see fried dough with cinnamon, sugar, powdered sugar, or honey. Sometimes, it's served with vanilla ice cream or a caramel drizzle.

Of course, you'll find plenty of savory options too. Marinara is a common sauce used, along with cheeses like ricotta, provolone, mozzarella, and Pecorino, and extras like salami, fresh tomatoes, basil, and anchovies. Ricotta is a quintessential ingredient here, dating back to the World War II days when it was considered nothing more than a cheap byproduct of mozzarella. But modern versions of pizza fritta have evolved to include a wide variety of delicious toppings, including octopus, pesto, mortadella, parmesan, or even fruit and Nutella. While the calzones are often eaten on the go, they can also be served with a basil garnish and tomato sauce on the side for dipping. So, the next time you're in Naples (or just itching for something new at home), you may want to give pizza fritta a try.