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:
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)
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 on Puglian Onion Pie
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 guess, 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.
Like any classic, there are any number of possible variations to Puglian onion pie. 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 is in Ferrante’s. 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.
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
Interested in learning more about this dish and Googling it? be aware, 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 scalcione di cipolla or pizza di cipolla. A bit confusing, but this kind of variety is not uncommon for well-known Italian dishes.
- 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)
- One batch of your favorite pie crust, store bought if you like
- 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.
Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. My grandmother’s parents were from Bari and we grew up eating many dishes that were specific to the Barese. My grandmother always made this dish for Christmas and we all loved it. She learned the recipe from her stepmother, Angelina, who was also from Bari. We always called it Onion Pie or un calzone. Unfortunately, she died unexpectedly in 1989 and never wrote down or shared her recipes. For years I have been trying to find the recipe but didn’t have any luck. Although our onion pie had green olives and didn’t have any meat or anchovies in it, your recipe has everything that I have been trying to find for over 30 years! Thank you again, and I am looking forward to trying to make it.
That’s fantastic, Kimberly! I’m so glad you were able to rediscover this family recipe! Enjoy… 🙂
My grandparents came from Giovinazzo, a beautiful coastal town just north of Bari. In my Nonna’s (Michelena Leccese DeSantis) version of this Puglian ‘onion pie’ she used green olives, anchovies, blonde raisins (soaked to soften), capers, a little grated Romano. More onions, but no tomatoes. My mom said her mother sometimes even some white fish, although that version I don’t recall. I’ve loved making it in various ways over the years, but nice to have found your recipe, which I followed last year. Although I’ve made it in a regular pie pan, I prefer making it in a tart pan, which turns out like your photo. As others have mentioned, non-Italians often are squeamish about eating an onion pie–but they always end up loving it. Grazzie mille!
Amazing to me that anyone Wouk be squeamish about this delicious pie, but there you go. Thanks for sharing your family recipe, it sounds delightful. The whitefish especially intrigues me. May give that a try…
My mother was born in Grumo Appula ( provincia di Bari) in the Puglia region.
Every Easter my mom made this onion pie, my favorite, and also her Pizza Rustica. This recipe has long been gone since she passed. I am so happy to have found the recipe here, snd will now carry on her tradition with my 3 daughters 🇮🇹🇮🇹🇮🇹🇮🇹
Thanks so much for sharing this story with us. There’s nothing quite so gratifying for me as helping my readers rediscover old family recipes. Enjoy!
That dish sounds great and I can’t wait to try it out, thanks for posting. Maybe you can help me.
My family is from Sicily and my mothers brother my uncle Charlie, married a woman whose mother was born in Bari.
She made the wonderful onion pie they called fogotts , that was made with a potato and flour dough. she rolled out a bottom dough and topped it with sautéed onions sliced black olives, and anchovies, then covered it with another layer of dough. It looked like a Sicilian pizza with no sauce. It was delicious. The problem is like so many people from the other side, they couldn’t give the recipe out, because they couldn’t explain how they did it. They would say I have to show you how to make it. The problem was she got up at 4am and started to make it. By the time everyone else got up, it was done.
So, we never got the recipe. I have tried to duplicate it to no avail. If anyone knows of a similar recipe to what I have described, please forward it to me and I’ll try it out and let you know how I made out.
Thanking you in advance,
That’s a funny story, Charlie! As mentioned in the post, onion pie can be made with a pizza dough crust, so that is surely what your aunt made. And there is a kind of pizza dough made with a bit of mashed potato thrown in, which is said to produce a lighter crust than the usual flour-only dough. I’ve never made it myself, so I can’t point you to one of my recipes, but if you read Italian, you’ll find a recipe for it here. And if you’re Italian is rusty, the dough pretty much follows the classic recipe (which you can find here) but with say one mashed potato added to the flour and, to compensate, a little less water. I’d add the potato and olive oil first and then enough water to form a rather sticky dough.
Frank, Thank you so much for posting this recipe. I loved my Nonna’s onion pizza as we called and always ate it the next day at room temperature. My Nonna passed when I was 14 and I thought her recipe only had onions and tomatoes in it. However I am probably wrong and I will try to make this, it sounds heavenly and she was from Bitritto, Bari, Italy I believe. Grazia!
Yep that’s the area for this lovely pie! Could well be that your nonna may have left out the olives and anchovies. There are probably as many variations on this recipe as there are nonne who make it. Anyway, though, do try it and let us know what you think!
My Grandmother made this onion pie on good friday, as a kid I did not like it at all. Of course as I got older and my taste buds changed I discovered that I loved this wonderful savory pie. My grandmother was from Bari and she made her pie with scallions (lots of them) anchovies and the cured black olives. I have introduced this recipe to my husband, children and grand children. It’s a family favorite everyone enjoys it. It tastes better to me the next day at room temperature. Thank you Frank for your wonderful recipe and posts.🥰
Thanks for sharing your story, Helen! Isn’t it funny how our tastes change as we get older? And yes, I agree, this does taste even better the day after! Happy cooking, Frank
My grandma (whose parents are from Triggiano) described an onion pie her mom used to make. I’m so happy I found this recipe. I love the very regional roots of this recipe and all the variations!
I’m glad, too. Leah. Hope you like it!
annual tradition on good Friday. thanks for posting!
And thanks for your comment, Grace!
This calzone sounds great but I have a question that has nagged me for years, Frank. Have you ever heard of a calzone whose filling consists mainly of eggs, rice, parmesan cheese and parsley? It was made most during Lent by my Grandmother and Aunt. I have yet to ever find anyone with knowledge of Italy who has heard of it. It was even served hot and the leftovers served cold. I’ve tried to make it several times but my filling usually lacks a certain robust taste of that made by my grandmother. I’m hoping you or one of your readers with relatives are from Southern Italy will have knowledge of this calzone and have a good recipe for it.
Ray, I remember something like that from my childhood, too. I don’t have the recipe on hand, but let me ask around and see what I can come up with.
Lulu, my grandparents came from Bari, Beciglia and I was raised with this onion pie made with ricotta scuanda (forte), also. We called it onion couga (cooga). Another was made with cold cuts and cheese. We use pizza dough for the crust. This must be a Bariese tradition.
My grandmother was also from Grumo and coincidentally her name was Mary Savino. She and her husbands step sister made this calzone every Easter along with pizza rustic and pizza dolce. Her calzone was made with sliced green olives and no tomato. Thanks for the recipe and memories.
What a coincidence, John! I was thinking it must be the same person, but then their recipes are different… or maybe not. I bet the one or two tomatoes called for in this recipe are optional anyway.
My Grandmother came from Bari and we have an onion pie recipe that is almost exactly the same! Sens anchovies add ricotta Squanto. Over the years we lost the directions and were left with only the list of ingredients. I’m going to give yours a try. Can’t wait to get this delight back on the table!
Frank thanks the pie looks yummy, my husbands family come from molfetta and I love their food my dad was from bassilicata thanks again
And thank *you* for your kind comment, Rosemary!
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!
And I’m thrilled by your comment, RAF! Thanks so much for your kinds words, and I couldn’t agree more about this dish. It was a childhood favorite—and still is!
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!!!!
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?
Your calzone looks and sounds delicious. I’ve never made it before but thank you for sharing and I hope to prepare it someday.
Worth a try, Roz! Thanks for stopping by.
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.
That’s great, Anthony. Just to season to try it again then!
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.
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….
Puglia is beautiful, and you can also take the ferry to Greece for another take on food in that part of the Mediterranean! Lecce is a lovely small city. I’d definitely make it with a pizza-type crust, perhaps with a bit of egg (not too much) to make it more supple. Of course up in Liguria and way down south in Argentina they’ll be making the Pasqualina – Pascualina soon. In Argentina they use acelga (bietole) because this ‘springtime’ dish is made in early autumn there!
https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lecce Wiki travel also cites extremely reasonable prices for 3 and 5 star hotels there…
mia mamma fa una roba simile con la pasta della pizza…ma quanto si mangia meravigliosamente bene in Italia??!!! 🙂
Hehe, è vero!
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.
I agree. The endless variety of Italian cookery is one of its greatest charms. And great fodder for debates, too!
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!
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!
I love the look of your onion pie. I have had something similar with a pizza style crust but this sounds special.
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!
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.
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!
Thank you Frank! My Dad (also Frank) would always talk about the onion pie that his Mom from Bari would make. He would describe the juices running down each side of his mouth as he devoured a piece! We never had the recipe passed down and now that Dad and his 2 sisters are in heaven, I have been trying to get a recipe to keep this dish in the family. I actually never had it before. Will try to make the pie with your recipe using the prepared pie crust first, but would be interested in the crust recipe using white wine. Also, how many cups of the sliced onion would I use? 2? THANK YOU!
You’re welcome, Larry! They say a large onion makes about 1-1/2 cups of sliced onions, so 3 cups total.That, of course, will reduce a lot once it’s sautéed. But I wouldn’t sweat it if you wind up with more or less.
Onofrio, I will definitely try to find that shop on one of my trips into the city!
My family is from Rutigliano, so my mother’s recipe includes the wine in the crust and the ricotta forte in the filling. She uses scallions as her onions. I finally found a local shop that carries a variety of ricotta forte (which is the only way my husband will eat it) and will try to finally make it on my own.
My recipe is identical to yours I guess because I am the town closest to yours, Adelfia! Thank you Frank for this wonderful website!
Welcome neighbor! 😉 Thanks for your kind comment! —Frank
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!
Thanks so much! Like you, I can enough of onions. What’s not to like?
I’ve been on an onion kick since early childhood. I love savoury food. Another wonderful thing about this pie is how cheap it is to make – I can propose it to the ‘collective kitchen’ near here as something special people with little money can make – together in the community kitchen, founded by a magical nun, nearby.
Lovely! Can you send me some?
I should ask FedEx if they will ship food… ;=)
I definitely want to make this … like right now.
Ha! Well, I hope you do. After all, chances are you have onions in the house, no?
Lovely post. Your dough looks so fantastic!
Thanks Dr. Dan!
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.”
Definitely! You know those southerners… ;=)
An onion pie. Fantastic!
And who doesn’t like onions? Thanks for stopping by!
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.
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!
I love this dish. They call it onion pizza here.
Thanks for your comment!
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!
Love onion and love pies. This one is a winner all round for me!
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.
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!
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!
Thanks for sharing these amazing recipes with us
That is sooo delicious! I love it!
The idea of adding wine to the dough sounds new to me.
Thanks for the detailed introduction.