Calzone hails from Naples, Italy, and was quizzically created as a food to eat on the go. While it’s not the most takeaway-friendly snack that comes to mind, calzone, which translates to ‘pants legs’, provided a satisfying solution to those who favoured using their hands instead of cutlery.

The half-moon pizza riff has experienced various bouts of popularity over the years, largely thanks to screentime on The Sopranos and Seinfeld, but it’s been a mainstay at Italian restaurants for those who appreciate something familiar, yet different.

Hospitality speaks to Tony Percuoco from Ristorante Tartufo and Lucio De Falco from Lucio’s Pizzeria about their experiences growing up with calzone, how it compares to its round sibling and why the upscale pizza pocket will always have a place on their menus.

Calzone has been around since the 18th century and presented a means for Italians to get rid of leftover ingredients. There are two types of calzones: the larger, oven-baked version called al forno (from the oven) and its smaller, crispy counterpart known as fritto. “The original is cooked in a wood-fired oven, while the fritto is deep-fried,” says Chef Lucio De Falco.

Chef Lucio De Falco

The chef describes calzone al forno as the “cousin of the Margherita pizza” and makes his version according to Neapolitan traditions at his two Sydney restaurants. “People had the idea of taking a pizza, folding it in half and cooking it,” he says. “It’s a folded pizza base made using common ingredients such as ricotta and salami, which match so well together. The fillings have changed over time, and each region uses alternate ingredients. The original also doesn’t have tomato sauce, but there’s nothing wrong with adding a little bit.”

Over in Brisbane, Chef Tony Percuoco has been a long-time fan of calzone and grew up eating them in Naples. “I ate them all the time, so I had to put it on my menu,” he says. “There are only two places in Italy that specialise in them: Naples and Puglia.”

Percuoco also sticks to the book when it comes to making calzone al forno at Ristorante Tartufo. “We make the traditional one with ricotta, ham or salami and white pepper,” says the chef. “On top, it gets parmesan, cheese, tomato and basil.”

The dough used to make calzone is no different to pizza’s and consists of just three ingredients: flour, yeast and water. De Falco opts for a Northern Italian flour and says the only difference between calzone and a pie comes down to stretching and structure. “We don’t stretch it a lot to make sure the dough doesn’t become too thin,” says the chef. “We stretch it to 28cm, which is the same as a normal pizza.”

Ristorante Tartufo uses dough that undergoes a slow fermentation process that spans anywhere from 24-48 hours before chefs get to work. “We put the dough on a marble counter and push it down to make it as big as a pizza,” says Percuoco. “You don’t want to overwork the dough.”

The fillings are layered in the middle of the dough after it’s been stretched. It’s here where chefs can experiment with different ingredients such as scamorza, mozzarella, ricotta, chicory or smoked meats, but the consensus is to keep it simple. “Once the ingredients are on top of each other, we fold the dough over and make sure the two sides stick together,” says De Falco, who also adds tomato sauce inside the calzone and a generous amount of cracked black pepper.

Once the half-moon shape has been achieved, tomato sauce is spread on top of the calzone and topped with mozzarella, parmesan, fresh basil leaves and olive oil before it’s placed in the oven. Time is of the essence in relation to cooking calzone, especially when the oven is hitting high temperatures.

“We bake it for around two minutes and are looking for a golden brown colour that’s a little darker than pizza,” says De Falco. “The filling is quite intense, and you want to make sure it has an extra 30-40 seconds baking time so the ingredients melt together and the dough is light and fluffy and not undercooked. The edges can be very doughy.”

Percuoco errs on the classic side for fillings, and ricotta is always involved. “We never put anything in with chilli, but you might mix the ricotta with some white pepper and milk to make it lighter,” says the chef. “You can use other ingredients such as fior di latte, but you always have a ricotta base.” Tomato sauce only goes on the outside of Percuoco’s calzone. “We always put the tomato on the top; if it goes inside, the dough sucks it in, and the dough needs to have a light consistency. Parmesan, basil leaves and extra-virgin olive oil follow.”

Chefs fold the dough and close it with their fingers, pinching the top to ensure some air can escape and the calzone “doesn’t blow up too much” without losing any of the filling during baking. “We cook it in a gas oven at 400 degrees Celsius for around two minutes,” says Percuoco. “You want those little charred bits and blisters because they’re the best parts.”

While some restaurants serve calzone with an accompanying dipping sauce, both Lucio’s Pizzeria and Ristorante Tartufo forgo any accompaniments. “I serve it as is,” says Percuoco. “I’m a traditionalist.”

Committing to a baked calzone isn’t something you can do half-heartedly, and as De Falco says, “To eat a calzone, you really need to feel like one; it’s quite rich and intense.” But calzone fritto provides the same experience in a bite-sized application. Lucio’s Pizzeria hosts dedicated fritto nights once a month. “We have a mobile deep-fryer made from copper that we put in the middle of the floor,” says De Falco.

The same dough and ingredients are used to make the fritto, but the end flavour profile is very different thanks to the cooking method. “We fry them in vegetable oil and they’re extremely popular,” says De Falco.

Percuoco is considering bringing back fried calzone after a successful stint on the menu a while ago. “The only reason I took them off is because they take a bit of work, but I might put them on again as a special,” says the chef. “There were three pieces as an entrée.”

Comparable to agnolotti or ricotta in size, Percuoco’s calzone fritto is stuffed with ricotta and left to prove in the fridge before being fried in oil at 190 degrees Celsius. “You cook them until they turn golden and then you can add some fresh tomato and basil or just eat them as is,” says the chef.

Whether you’re starting a meal with calzone or making it a meal, the staple is an example of an evergreen creation that combines tradition with simplicity; a notion that never gets old in the culinary world.