Naples, Italy is home to thousands of pizzerias that churn out life-altering margheritas day after day for throngs of hungry customers. Pizza is the city’s unrivaled culinary masterpiece and treated as a veritable art form – to qualify as a member of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the True Neapolitan Pizza association) a pizzeria must adhere to a strict set of rules.
Everything from using ingredients with a protected designation of origin to adhering to a process that regulates the rising of the dough to kneading techniques and baking temperature are regulated. “The Art of Neapolitan Pizzamaking” is even being considered for UNESCO Intangible World Cultural Heritage recognition.
At the city’s most famous pizzerias – such as Sorbillo, Di Matteo and Da Michele – hungry people wait hours for a taste of what might be the world’s most traditional pizza: margherita, a round flatbread with a raised crust, topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. What most visitors miss, however, is the city’s other traditional pizza: pizza fritta.
One of the city’s original street foods, this deep-fried, oversized calzone was popularized in the post-WWII era when the wives of pizzaiolos would use extra dough they had on hand to deep fry pizzas as a way of generating extra income for their families. The fried pizzas were stuffed with ricotta and ciccioli (fatty pork bits), inexpensive ingredients that were always on-hand, and then deep-fried to a golden crisp in a bubbling boiler which required little maintenance.
The women would set up shop outside their modest flats and feed hungry passersby who generally paid off their debts eight days later, popularizing the phrase “a ogge a otto” (“from today to eight days”).
Whereas the large, round margheritas required wood-burning ovens, tomatoes and mozzarella – expensive ingredients at the time – pizza fritta remained easily accessible for the lower classes. Both in substance and style, it is a quintessential example of Italy’s cucina povera (poor man’s food), championed throughout the country for turning modest, local ingredients into something nourishing, flavorful and comforting.
Today, pizza fritta is still prepared according to its historic recipe in centennial establishments such as Da Fernanda in the Quartieri Spagnoli and D’è Figliole in the city’s Forcella neighborhood, though it is also evolving into a reputable culinary phenomenon in its own right. Across the city, and even onto new shores, fried pizza joints are emerging that offer a gourmet spin to this traditional food.
In Naples, Pizza Fritta 1947 serves up creative flavor combinations such as the Posillipo, with Sorrento lemons, provola cheese, arugula and caciocavallo cheese, while Pizzeria La Notizia’s newest venue, ‘O Sfizio d’à Notizia, has a version with escarole, salted codfish, pine nuts, raisins, capers and black olives.
In Brooklyn, Neapolitan pizzeria Forcella serves a tartufo fried pizza, stuffed with smoked mozzarella, ham, mushrooms and truffle oil. And Don Antonio in Manhattan offers a variety of fried pizzas that include stuffed versions, as well as the signature montanara, a spin on fried pizza that consists of a fried dough base that’s topped with ingredients. Don Antonio’s Montanara Genovese has onions, pancetta and Parmesan cheese, translating Naples’ famous Genovese pasta into a decadent pizza form.
Even celebrity pizzaiolo Gino Sorbillo has recently unveiled his eponymous establishment on the Bowery, bringing one of Naples’ most celebrated pizzas to New York City. With a dozen Neapolitan pizzas on the menu and an array of pizza frittas, including one with smoked mozzarella and tomato sauce, it probably won’t be long before lines begin to form outside his newest establishment, too.
Pizza fritta may still lie under the radar, obscured by the popularity of its more famous cousin, but it is slowly emerging from the shadows to enjoy its own time in the culinary limelight.
*This article was originally published in November 2017.