Puglian Onion Pie

Calzone di cipolla alla pugliese (Puglian Onion Pie)

In antipasti, Puglia by Frank Fariello45 Comments

This dish brings back some of my fondest childhood food memories. Calzone di cipolla, or Puglian 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 Puglian onion pie. 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 Puglian onion 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. Puglian onion pie 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

Calzone di cipolla alla pugliese (Puglian Onion Pie)

Rating: 51

Yield: One pie

Calzone di cipolla alla pugliese (Puglian Onion Pie)

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

Directions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
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Comments

  1. R.A.F.

    I am thrilled to see this recipe on the internet!
    My family is from a small town outside of Bari called Bitritto. I remember the stench of onions throughout the house, when my mom would make this “calzone” that we all INHALED! She had perfected the flaky pastry and the tender delicious onions would melt in your mouth. Anyone I described this dish to would say, “ew, an onion pie?!” Boy, they didn’t know what they were missing….

    Love this site, keep up the great work!
    R.A.F.

  2. Pingback: Food&Colors: Cipolla rossa | La Caccavella

  3. elizabeth

    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!!!!

    1. crhristina

      Hello Elizabeth!

      My grandmother and great grandmother from Bari also made this dish for us. My son, a chef, has been recreating it from my memory of what it was and he came upon this recipe and shared it to my absolute delight.

      I see your family was also from Bari..I live in Miami, FL US, where do you live now?

      Ciao!
      Christina

      1. Anthony

        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.

  4. Simona

    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.

    1. Frank Fariello

      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….

  5. Claudia

    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.

  6. Adri

    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!

    1. Frank Fariello

      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. Karen

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

    1. Frank Fariello

      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

    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

    1. Frank Fariello

      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. Nuts about food

    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!

  10. ciaochowlinda

    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.”

  11. Cookin' Canuck

    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.

    1. Frank Fariello

      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!

  12. Anonymous

    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!

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  14. Frank

    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.

  15. Avalon76

    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 ^_^

  16. Gayle

    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!

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