Calzone di cipolla alla pugliese (Puglian Onion Pie)


This dish brings back some of my fondest childhood food memories. Calzone di cipolla, or onion pie, is one of the signature dishes of the cuisine of Puglia. My grandfather Lorenzo hailed from a small town outside of Bari, the capital of Puglia, called Grumo Appula. His sister, whom we called Zia Angelina (not to be confused with my grandmother and her sister-in-law Angelina) made this pie her specialty. It has been years since I had last tasted this dish and had lost track of Zia Angelina’s recipe, but, as luck would have it, a friend of the family named Maria Savino, also from Grumo Appula, provided us with the following recipe:

Ingredients

For the filling:

  • 2 large onions (see Notes), thinly sliced from top to bottom
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2-3 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped
  • A handful of pitted black olives
  • 4-5 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped (or more if you like anchovy)

Plus one batch of your favorite pie crust, store bought if you like (see Notes)

Directions

Sauté the onions (see Notes for the best onions to use) in a generous amount of olive oil over gentle heat, seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper and taking care not to let them brown too much. (At this stage of cooking, it helps to cover the sauté pan. This speeds the reduction process and discourages burning. Add a spoonful or two of water if needed.) When the onions are translucent and well reduced in volume, add the chopped plum tomatoes and continue to cook until the tomatoes have totally melted into the onions and any liquid has evaporated. (Once the liquid has evaporated, you will hear the onions begin to ‘sizzle’.) Turn off the heat and let the onion mixture cool completely.

Spread the sautéed onion mixture in a 23 cm/9-inch pie or quiche pan lined with a crust of your choice (see Notes for details on different crusts to use). Arrange some black olives and anchovy fillets, roughly chopped if you like, evenly on top of the onions. You should use enough so that every bite will have a bit of olive and a bit of anchovy. Cover the pie with another round of crust, pinch the bottom and top crusts together and then either trim off the edges (as in the photo above) or fold the extra bit of crust inwards to make a nice border. Make slits in the top crust to allow air to escape. (If you prefer, you can also simply prick some holes in the crust.)

Bake the calzone in a moderately hot oven (180° C, 375° F) for about 30-45 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and the pie is giving off a wonderfully savory aroma. Allow the pie to cool before serving. You can eat it warm (not hot) but, to my taste, the pie is much better at room temperature—and it tastes even better the day after you make it.

Notes

Like any classic, there are any number of possible variations to this dish. There are variations in the onion filling: Zia Angelina’s recipe called for a bit of tomato sauce instead of fresh tomatoes, plus a sprinkling of oregano. Other recipes omit the tomatoes altogether and call for adding grated pecorino cheese, raisins softened in warm water, bread crumbs and/or capers. Some recipes allow or call for green olives rather than black. The recipe for a version of this dish contained in Maria Pignatelli Ferrante’s excellent Puglia: A Culinary Memoire calls for a stuffing of leeks, escarole, black olives, anchovies, capers and fresh tomato. She notes that in many parts of Puglia, the escarole is omitted, which is clearly the case in Grumo Appula. And some recipes call for adding an egg or two to the filling, which would, of course, give it a much firmer texture when baked.

There are various possible crusts for this pie. The classic crust, which Zia Angelina’s (as well as Ferrante’s) recipe calls for is made from a pizza-like dough of flour, oil, water and yeast. Some recipes call for adding a bit of white wine to the dough. In Zia Angelina’s recipe, the dough is not allowed to rise before being rolled out, but in Ferrante’s, it is. Maria Savino’s recipe calls for a simple crust of flour and oil, with only a bit of water if needed to bind the ingredients and without yeast, known as sfoglia all’olio—a kind of Mediterranean pâte brisée. And, last but not least, Maria also uses packaged crust (she uses Pillsbury’s brand), something which—not being much of a baker—I can heartily endorse as a perfectly acceptable shortcut.

Since onions are the ‘star of the show’, the choice of onion will strongly affect the end result. In Puglia, the most favored choices are cipolle rosse di Acquaviva delle Fonti, a very sweet red onion, or cipolle sponsali, a kind of a cross between green onion and leek—hence, I would surmise, Ferrante’s suggestion of leeks for this dish. Maria Savino suggests using green onions (also called ‘scallions’ in certain places). Fresh onions, those sold in the spring with their green tops still on, would also work very nicely. And for those in North America, the sweet Vidalia onion—which I used when I made this—is a great choice as well. In a pinch, regular yellow onions will do, but the filling will not have the same sweetness which, combined with the savory elements of the filling, provide the typical character of the filling.

Although none of these recipes specify, it is also important, at least in my book, to slice the onions from top to bottom (ie, vertically) rather than horizontally, across the grain. This helps the onion slices to remain intact; they would otherwise complete melt during the fairly long cooking process they need to soften well. That will give your filling a pleasing bit of texture.

To see one of these other versions made, I would refer you to this excellent demonstration by my “Foodbuzz” friend, Nicoletta Tavella.

A final note: If you are interested in learning more about this dish, and perhaps Googling it, it should be mentioned that this dish goes by a good number of aliases. In pugliese dialect, it is called pizztidd or pizzutello. It can also be called scialcone di cipolla or pizza di cipolla. A bit confusing, but this kind of variety is not uncommon for well-known Italian dishes.

A view of Santa Maria Assunta, the 13th century ‘mother church’ of Grumo Appula

 

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43 Responses to “Calzone di cipolla alla pugliese (Puglian Onion Pie)”

  1. elizabeth
    2 April 2013 at 09:48 #

    You have made my Easter!!! I have been searching for this recipe for quite some time – my grandmother, who was from Bari always made it at Easter & Christmas. Thank you ever so much for sharing it – my family is in onion pie heaven!!!!

  2. 16 March 2013 at 19:11 #

    Frank,

    Your calzone looks and sounds delicious. I’ve never made it before but thank you for sharing and I hope to prepare it someday.

    Roz

    • 19 March 2013 at 07:03 #

      Worth a try, Roz! Thanks for stopping by.

      • Anthony
        20 March 2013 at 08:45 #

        In my family we make this Onion Pie with green onions, black olives and anchovy…and it is our traditional Good Friday meal. After my Grandmother and Mother passed away – I continue the tradition with my family.

        • 24 March 2013 at 07:39 #

          That’s great, Anthony. Just to season to try it again then!

  3. 14 March 2013 at 18:04 #

    Very nice! I am not familiar with the original, but I love cipolle so I am sure I’d enjoy a slice. I recently received a cookbook from Puglia as a gift and have already a list of dishes I want to try from it. And one day, I hope to actually visit the region.

    • 15 March 2013 at 06:58 #

      Me, too. Even though part of my family is from Puglia, I never visited during all my years in Italy. One of my regrets in life….

  4. 13 March 2013 at 03:03 #

    mia mamma fa una roba simile con la pasta della pizza…ma quanto si mangia meravigliosamente bene in Italia??!!! :-)

  5. 9 March 2013 at 16:34 #

    I’ve never had this in any variation. I shall rectify that before the chilly month is out. I am also enjoying all those variations – one of my favorite thing about Italian recipes.

    • 11 March 2013 at 07:34 #

      I agree. The endless variety of Italian cookery is one of its greatest charms. And great fodder for debates, too!

  6. 8 March 2013 at 20:41 #

    Ciao Frank,

    What a wonderful article about this classic pie, so very popular during Lent.There are indeed numerous variations for this – I’m familiar with the wine in the crust variation myself.

    Onion pies are a particular favorite of mine, whether from the British Isles, Alsace, Switzerland or all the way down to Puglia. The humble onion transforms to a meltingly sweet delectation with the application of heat and elevates the simplest of dishes.

    I favor leeks for my Scalcione di cipolla, but as you have made abundantly clear, the variations are endless, with some cooks even adding mozzarella, scamorza or a smattering of ricotta. The invention and flexibility of the Pugliese cook is something to envy and emulate. These variations give such family character to these dishes, don’t they?

    Thanks, as always, Frank for a lovingly constructed piece. Complimenti!

    • 11 March 2013 at 07:37 #

      Thanks, Adri! I’ll have to make this with leeks next time. I’ve made a leek tart before and really love it. And try the crust with white wine—curious to see what it adds… The endless variations are really part of the genius of Italian cookery. You never stop learning!

  7. 8 March 2013 at 15:55 #

    I love the look of your onion pie. I have had something similar with a pizza style crust but this sounds special.

    • 11 March 2013 at 07:39 #

      Thanks, Karen! I like a thin crust because it really brings the onions forward, so to speak. But it is delicious with pizza crust, too, of course!

  8. Onofrio
    8 March 2013 at 10:49 #

    What a welcome sight, on this snowy NYC morning. My family also from Grumo has been making this on every St.Joseph’s Day and Easter for the past 64 years of my life. It is so intrinsically part of my family’s past. It’s our living link to Grandma Sforza. Yes,like many recipes that ve come down, there are many variations. Our’s being Barese olives (small green ones) and the crust’s use of regional white wine. Whi.ch I buy at my friend Louie DiPalma’s fantastic Italian wine store on Grand Sreet, NYC, and olive oil from Apuglia at his Italian specialty store that’s next store and over a hundred years old. I feel specially connected to my past by using products from the same soil my Grandparents tread. Thank you so very much.
    Onofrio Rella

    • 11 March 2013 at 07:41 #

      I couldn’t agree more, Onofrio! That sense of connection is so important.

      Will have to try making the crust next time with white wine. I’m curious to see what that adds to the dish, so many people seem to favor it.

      Thanks for your comment and your readership!

  9. 8 March 2013 at 06:09 #

    I think I have been on an onion kick lately: I just pinned Smitten Kitchen’s onion tart and now see this and am pinning it. I think I almost like this better because I love the olives added in it. A beautiful pie!

    • 8 March 2013 at 08:40 #

      Thanks so much! Like you, I can enough of onions. What’s not to like?

  10. 7 March 2013 at 23:25 #

    Lovely! Can you send me some?

  11. 7 March 2013 at 21:20 #

    I definitely want to make this … like right now.

    • 8 March 2013 at 08:38 #

      Ha! Well, I hope you do. After all, chances are you have onions in the house, no?

  12. 7 March 2013 at 13:53 #

    Lovely post. Your dough looks so fantastic!

  13. 7 March 2013 at 13:10 #

    Frank – I had a similar pie once near Lake Como, but without the addition of the olives or tomatoes or anchovies. I’m sure that gives it an extra “zing.”

  14. 7 March 2013 at 08:39 #

    An onion pie. Fantastic!

    • 8 March 2013 at 08:36 #

      And who doesn’t like onions? Thanks for stopping by!

  15. 7 March 2013 at 08:36 #

    Wow, there are a lot of Angelina’s in your family! What a wonderful comfort dish, and I always appreciate a recipe that is open to variation.

    • 8 March 2013 at 08:36 #

      Yep, a lot of Angelinas and a lot of Franks, too! At least among the older generation. Today they’re all Colins and Laurens and so on… Thanks for stopping by, Dara!

  16. djkrysa
    17 December 2012 at 06:05 #

    I love this dish. They call it onion pizza here.

  17. Anonymous
    24 October 2011 at 18:57 #

    My mother-in-law, who is from Bari, made this pie every holiday – it was always a hit! I bet a Sicilian spin on it, browned sausage crumbles with black oil cured olives would be a great variation as well!

  18. 20 July 2011 at 04:33 #

    Love onion and love pies. This one is a winner all round for me!

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  20. 19 September 2009 at 00:22 #

    Thanks, everyone, for your kind words!

    Avalon76: So glad I could help find an old family treat. It took me some time, too, to recover this one.

  21. 18 September 2009 at 10:50 #

    I can't believe it!!! My mother has talked about this for years – she had fond memories of her own grandmother making it. Now I finally have a recipe! Thank you so much!

    Jen ^_^

  22. 26 August 2009 at 21:30 #

    A close friend of mine is Puglian. The next time I visit him (he's “exiled” in Switzerland), I'll surprise him with this recipe. I bet he'll love it!

  23. Anonymous
    20 August 2009 at 22:44 #

    Thanks for sharing these amazing recipes with us

  24. 16 August 2009 at 08:58 #

    That is sooo delicious! I love it!

  25. 14 August 2009 at 23:10 #

    The idea of adding wine to the dough sounds new to me.
    Thanks for the detailed introduction.

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