Panzarotti are pockets of dough which are stuffed with ingredients like cheese, tomato sauce, vegetables, and cured meats before being sealed and fried. You could consider panzarotti a form of deep-fried ravioli, or a softer, fried version of the calzone, another popular Italian food. In addition to being served in Italy, this deep fried treat can also be found along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, especially in New Jersey, where a large and proud Italian population serves an assortment of traditional Italian dishes.
In Italy, this dish is better known as panzerotti, with an “E,” while in the United States, it is spelled with an A; Americans also treat the word “panzarotti” as singular, referring to one panzarotti and many panzarottis, despite the fact that the word is actually plural in Italian. However you spell it or pluralize it, this dish tends to be a hit with people who try it.
Panzarotti originate in southern Italy, especially in the area around Naples. They began to be popularized in Northern Italy around the 1940s, at which point they also made the leap to North American Italian communities, some of whom have close ties with the home country. The foundation of the dish is a soft dough similar to pasta dough, which is rolled out before being stuffed and then pinched shut.
As the panzarotti are deep fried, they puff up with hot air and steam, thanks to the juicy ingredients inside. Biting into a panzarotti fresh out of the fryer is not advised, because the hot melted cheese can be like napalm in the mouth. Instead, most people tear their panzarotti open before eating them, allowing the steam to escape so that it will not burn them.
Any number of variations on panzarotti can be made, from vegan versions stuffed with ingredients like spinach and tofu to meat panzarotti stuffed with cured meats like prosciutto. Most panzarotti also include a healthy heaping of cheese like mozarella or ricotta. The dish can be eaten with a knife and fork on a plate, or treated as finger food; people who eat panzarotti out of their hands may want to wrap theirs in wax paper to prevent burns and keep their hands clean.