It’s time we had a chat about panzerotti, the delicious deep-fried Italian snacks you never knew you needed until now.
Panzerotti originated from Puglia, along the south-east coast of Italy. They’re otherwise known as fried calzone or a savoury turnover, and have been commercialised in North America where they’re now referred to as pizza pockets.
Biting into one of these deep-fried parcels, you’re traditionally greeted by a steaming hot combination of tomato and melted cheese. The star of Il Panzerotto Taste of Puglia’s show though is the world’s first bolognese panzerotto inspired by owner Ettore Donnaloia’s mother.
Bologna and Puglia unite to create a perfect harmony through the use of bolognese sauce, cheese and dough. It’s not quite a calzone, and definitely not a lasagne. What it is, is an explosion of flavour in your mouth which will leave you hooked.
According to Donnaloia, panzerotti were first created by an Italian housewife. “The housewives used to cook for the kids and would make homemade bread. It was a staple for families. When they would make homemade bread they would then cut off a piece of dough which they would fry and give to kids. Then, the kids started asking for something else inside, so they would put some cheese and tomato inside, fold, close and fry it. The kids loved it, and slowly every single family tried making panzerotti at home,” he says.
Donnaloia and his family migrated to Melbourne from an old village in Puglia called Pezze di Greco. It was upon coming here that he realised that there wasn’t anything representative of his culture, as at the time most Italians migrated from Sicily or Calabria.
“One day I found out about farmer’s markets and saw people in this relaxed environment selling their own products, which inspired me. A few years later I went back to Italy for a holiday and one night my dad’s cousin, who had started a panzerotti business, was cooking panzerotti at a party. When I saw that I had a lightbulb moment and thought that’s what was missing in Melbourne!” he says.
Traditionally, panzerotti are around eight centimetres in length, but after starting to trade at farmer’s markets, Donnaloia realised that the small nature of these snacks weren’t enough for his customers.
“The first six months the product didn’t go well because people would eat one then still be hungry. So I changed the size of the panzerotti and made it bigger so that people would get full from eating one. At the beginning, I also only had three flavours: tomato and cheese, Nutella and a vegan one. We then decided to create more flavours to suit everyone including ham and cheese, and bolognese.”
Donnaloia and his mother would experiment with variations of flavours and sizes of panzerotti, and due to the recent lockdown, how to store and freeze panzerotti so his customers could fry or bake them at home.
“Italians are very strict when it comes to food. When they first came to my market stall and would see bolognese panzerotti, it’s like I went and killed one thousand years of history. I told them not to be scared and to try it and let me know. When they tried it they would say ‘I didn’t expect that.’ We’re always scared of new things, but if we don’t try we won’t know. That being said there are some things you should keep sacred like not adding cream to your carbonara,” he says.
It’s because of his innovation that Donnaloia has been able to survive lockdown, especially when he lost his main streams of revenue through the cancellation of events and farmer’s markets.
“The market has really old origins. People used to always go out centuries ago and buy what they liked, chatted with the local suppliers and go home. You create a connection with the community. I love it so much,” he says. And it’s the loyal customer base that he’s built up that has kept him going.
Until he can resume trading in public spaces, Donnaloia continues to offer frozen panzerotti available for delivery via his online store. You can also meet him and get a fresh panzerotti from Il Panzerotto Taste of Puglia once he can resume normal trade.