Italian street food isn’t hard to find in this city. You go to street fairs for zeppole, those crispy, fried dough balls sprinkled with powdered sugar; you head to outdoor markets like Madison Square Eats for arancini, stuffed, fried rice balls; you can hit up any number of ice cream shops across the five boroughs for scoops of creamy gelato.
But panzerotti — those are a different story.
The second restaurant in the city to sell them opened in early January on Smith St. in Carroll Gardens, so we asked Panzerotti Bites co-owner Vittoria Lattanzio, 26, to help explain exactly what you’ll be getting when you place your order.
(In July, Lattanzio and her husband, Pasquale de Ruvo, left behind their lives and family in Italy to “follow this dream” they had of cooking the dish full-time for New Yorkers, she says, so you know she’s passionate about it.)
So what exactly is a panzerotto?
It’s been called everything from a “Southern Italian turnover” to a “grown-up Hot Pocket,” but we think it’s easiest to picture it as a calzone’s fried, smaller cousin.
How is it made?
It all starts with pizza dough. Lattanzio and de Ruvo, graduates of a pizza school in Italy, are making theirs from scratch with flour, water, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and yeast.
“We are professional pizza makers, and also we have studied the world of the panzerotti-making process,” Lattanzio says, “so we also do special doughs made with cocoa or coffee, so the panzerotti turns brown.”
After the dough is rolled out, it’s filled with any mix of sweet or savory ingredients. The most traditional combo is mozzarella, tomato sauce and oregano, but Panzerotti Bites is also offering dessert options like a blend of Nutella and ricotta cheese.
“After that, you have to close it, making it look like a half-moon shape,” Lattanzio continues. “And then you fry it,” for a crispy but fluffy finish. Lattanzio and de Ruvo are using canola oil for that purpose.
Where in Italy does it come from?
The calzone may hail from Naples, but the panzerotto is from the Puglia region of Italy, or the “heel of the boot,” from which Lattanzio and de Ruvo both hail. (They grew up in two different small towns, but met in the region’s capital, Bari.)
“It’s something that Apulians really feel is their own specialty food,” Lattanzio explains, “because they all do it at home, with their own mom and grandmothers, with their whole family during parties or events.” Panzerotti Bites has fine-tuned her mother’s recipe for the dish, she says.
What’s the origin of the name “panzerotto”?
In the Italian dialect spoken in central and southern Italy, “Panza” is a variation on the standard word for belly, “pancia.” A panzerotto is swollen like your belly after a particularly gluttonous meal.
How do you properly eat one?
Mayor de Blasio, take note: The panzerotto is a street food, so “don’t use any knives or forks, just your hands,” Lattanzio advises. At Panzerotti Bites, it will be served in a white cone ideal for eating on the go. “It can be eaten everywhere, from Central Park to your own house, during a party, while you are here, while you are walking.”
You’ll also want to wait at least two minutes before you bite into a fresh one, she adds: “When it comes out of the fryer, it’s very, very hot, so we also suggest you pay attention.”
My mouth is watering. Where can I buy one now?
You’ve got two options, as far as we know of. The Greenwich Village shop Mr. Panzerotto (124 MacDougal St.) sells the fried dough pockets with a wide variety of fillings at prices ranging from $6 to $9. Go the classic savory route with Mr. Prosciutto (ham, tomato sauce and mozzarella) or the vegan way with Miss Spinach (spinach, vegan cream cheese). Grab a bagel-inspired Mr. Salmon (smoked salmon, avocado and cream cheese) in the morning and a Miss Nutella (Nutella and ricotta cheese) for dessert.
Selections on the menu at Panzerotti Bites (235 Smith St.) include the tartufo panzerotto (mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, black truffle oil), the avocado panzerotto (mozzarella, smoked salmon, avocado, cream cheese and sesame seeds) and the white chocolate and Oreo cookie panzerotto.