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Puglia’s Best Kept Culinary Secret: Panzerotto

A panzerotto is a fried version of a calzone that is unique to the Puglia region of Italy. Piping hot and stuffed with mozzarella and tomato sauce, eating a panzerotto is a sinfully satisfying experience. Panzerotti (plural) have crossed the Atlantic and become popular in the United States, particularly Texas and New Jersey, but tasting them at the source is always the best. Every city in Puglia has its own version, and, in this way, panzerotti are similar to Neapolitan pizza: Naples is jam packed with pizzerias, but you need to eat at a few to find your favorite. I recently went to the joint that many locals consider the best maker of panzerotti on earth, Pizzeria Romanelli di Larocca Giuseppe Carlo, in Brindisi.

fritta makes me smile

Until recently, my favorite calzone fritto spot was located in Lecce. Lecce, a rising star in the Italian south, provides visitors with beautiful Baroque facades as well as delicious baked goods, such as the breakfast pastry pasticciotto, individual shortbread-like cakes stuffed with cream, and rustici, savory, flakey, croissant-like pastries filled with béchamel sauce, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. In general, the calzone fritto, aka panzerotti, in Lecce are somewhat unpredictable. However, the shop on the corner of Via Salvatore Trinchese and Piazzetta Brizio De Santis has never disappointed me. This little shop makes delicious calzone fritto from 5pm-midnight.

My new favorite spot for panzerotti is in Brindisi. Pizzeria Romanelli is located on Via S. Lucia, a tiny alleyway off of the popular Via Annunziata, which is a street known for its good restaurants. When my Pugliese friends took to this little spot, I felt like I’d just found Puglia’s version of the famous Neapolitan pizzeria Da Michele. For a food lover such as myself, this was incredible. I’d visited Brindisi multiple times over the past three years and here was an incredible, traditional food joint right under my nose. For this reason, I’m calling Pizzeria Romanelli Puglia’s best kept secret.

Fritta certification at Pizzeria Romanelli

The little restaurant was bustling when we arrived. There aren’t any tables, just standing room at bars that wrap around the room. Soccer was playing on the TV. Everyone was eating fritta, the Brindisi-specific version of a panzerotto. To help you keep the names straight, the following terms are all synonymous: panzerotto, fritta, calzone fritto.

Each fritta is made to order. Towering boxes of fresh, rolled out dough surround the chef who begins the process. He arranges the cheese and sauce, then folds the circular dough in half, making the traditional, half-moon shape of a calzone. The fritte are then put in the over to bake for a just a minute. When finished, they are taken out and given to another chef who submerges them in frying oil. They come out golden brown and extremely hot. For my part, it took serious self-control to keep myself from biting into the delicious, dangerously hot fritta.

Fritta up-close

The dough tastes like a savory version of the fried dough, or doughboys, that I grew up with at state fairs. However, when you reach the cheesy, saucy middle, the fritta ascends to a higher place on the culinary hierarchy. It certainly doesn’t have the finesse of a Neapolitan pizza—it is more of an incredible snack than a meal—but it’s high on my list of not-to-be-missed foods in Italy. It turns out that Pizzeria Romanelli has had so much success that it opened a shop in Houston, Texas.

Written by Mattie Bamman for

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