I hesitate to write about this wonderful memory because my words cannot do justice to the magnificance of this simple food. If you grew up in an Italian household on the east coast or just lived in an area that had an Italian festival every summer, then you are probably already familiar with this phenomena-pizza fritta.
My grandmother made two types of pizza-one a traditional pizza which she rolled out and placed in a rectangular pan and baked in a hot oven, similar to what you’d see in shops in Italy. Her version was quite simple-tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. The other was just as wonderful and actually my favorite-the same dough that was made into individual small rounds and fried in hot oil. They cooked in an instant and were then topped with tomato sauce and grated parmesan and that’s it! She made them in her home kitchen but also was called into action at the Italian church in town whenever they had a festival (or what we called “a bazaar”).
I remember standing outside the booth, watching the little Italian grandmothers strring the pots of sauce, frying the little pizzas and handing them over to those of us waiting our turn. I was so proud that my grandma was up there, cooking in the most popular booth at the bazaar! I can’t exactly remember the price but they probably cost a quarter each or less.
For years I’ve thought about pizza fritta and since my grandmother died and I moved to the west coast it was a memory and nothing more. You could hear the envy in my voice when my sister would tell me that she had gone to a festival and I would ask “Did they have pizza fritta?”. I couldn’t even remember the last time that I had one. Now that’s sad…
So-I’m a cook-cooking is my passion and I kept thinking “you can do this, why don’t you make your own pizza fritta?”. Last year I finally decided that I should just go ahead and try it. The first attempt was a bust-I used a new recipe for pizza dough and it was terrible! Much too heavy and I tried to fry it and I could tell without tasting it that it was a disaster! (I won’t mention in what cookbook of a very famous chef I found this recipe…). I’m not sure why I didn’t use the recipe for dough that I’ve been using for years!
Anyway, some time passed and I decided to give it a try again. As I mentionned before I’m not much for frying, but I figured how hard could this be? I made a small batch, just two-one for my husband and one for me. It was good-really good actually. I worried about what J. would think-he’d never even heard of it! He grew up eating pizza from chain pizzerias-pretty bad stuff, but there’s not much else in our area. He liked my fried dough but I haven’t made it since then. I’m not sure why-I guess I consider it a treat and also an indulgence- after all, it is fried!
J. is away and I had some tomato basil sauce in the fridge and I thought “why not?”. I made the dough, let it rest and then went to work. It was good-very good. I made it two nights in a row and now I’m sitting here feeling like I’ve been very naughty. I’m justifying eating this two nights in a row for the sake of the blog (ha!). You should try it-you could even use store bought pizza dough. I think the most important part is to make sure that the oil is hot enough. You don’t want to rush this. If the oil isn’t hot enough, your dough will be heavy and taste of oil. If done properly these delicious pizzas are light and you really enjoy not only the dough, but the sauce and the grating of parmesan.
I have quite a few Italian and cookbooks and over the years I’ve checked all of them for something about pizza fritta. I had always thought that possibly you made a different type of dough for frying. You can use whatever recipe you usually use for pizza. I did finally find an actual recipe in Jamie Oliver’s wonderful book “Jamie’s Italy”. He relates that he ate them in a restaurant in Panzano in Chianti and that they were the lightest pizzas he’d ever eaten and that these were probably how the very first pizzas were made.
1 recipe pizza dough
basic tomato basil sauce
grated parmesan (Jamie topped his with fresh mozzarella)
Divide dough into 6 pieces. Roll them out to about 1/4″ thick and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Heat a frying pan over high heat, adding about 3/4″ vegetable oil (I used olive oil) and fry each pizza for about 30 seconds or so on each side. Remove with tongs. Top with sauce and cheese and serve! If you use mozzarella, place pizzas on a cookie sheet and pop into 450 degree oven until cheese is melted.