What Is Panuozzo And What Does It Taste Like?

Have you ever tried making homemade pizza dough and accidentally ended up with too much? So have decades of Italian pizza makers who have had a lot of time to cook up creative ways to use leftover dough in economical yet delicious ways. Many are familiar with pizza-adjacent sandwiches like calzones and strombolis, but these arguably pale in both size and taste compared to some of their lesser-known relatives. The Panuozzo di Gragnano, or simply panuozzo, is the brainchild of the Mascalo pizzeria, located in the region of Campania, and is everything that calzones and strombolis should aspire to be.

Panuozzo is an Italian sandwich that was first made in 1983 by Giuseppe Mascalo, who used pizza dough to create an elongated, ovular-shaped bread similar to a pita that gets baked in a ripping hot pizza oven. Once that puffs up in the center and starts to brown on the outside, the bread gets taken out and cut open to allow the cook to add the desired fillings. The panuozzo then gets quickly baked a second time in the oven, allowing it to develop a distinctive crispy exterior to complement the hot, gooey center where the cheeses, meats, veggies, and herbs are. The result is something that tastes like a Neapolitan pizza sandwich. Because panuozzo is as delicious as it sounds, the Mascalo family trademarked the name to cement their legacy with the creation.

What makes the panuozzo unique?

At its simplest, panuozzo is a hot sandwich with savory fillings and flavors that overlap with Neopolitan pizza. It wouldn't take much to slice some prosciutto and mozzarella cheese, put them in an Italian-style bread roll, and bake the whole thing in an oven to mimic panuozzo. However, that would be leaving out some of the key ingredients that set panuozzo apart from other sandwiches.

The first crucial element of panuozzo is the pizza dough, which provides something that conventional sandwich bread can't. Unlike typical bread doughs, pizza dough contains a lower hydration percentage that allows it to cook faster in the oven. Due to this, panuozzo can be taken from raw, flattened dough to a fully cooked pizza sandwich in a matter of minutes. That allows the panuozzo to retain the signature crisp of a freshly baked thin crust with a soft, chewy inside.

The second thing that sets authentic panuozzo apart from basic sandwiches is the wood-fired pizza oven. These can get up to 850 F, which is vital for achieving great crust on the panuozzo and imparting a slightly smoky flavor. An approximation of the panuozzo can be attempted at home with a standard convection oven. The pizza dough won't be able to puff up as effectively, though, creating the soft bed that the sandwich fillings will eventually sit in. You might also miss out on the crispy, golden-brown exterior using a standard oven.

Variations on the panuozzo

Traditional panuozzos from the Mascalo pizzeria featured humble ingredients like pancetta, mozzarella, and arugula. Thankfully, like most street foods, panuozzos are a versatile format that allow for tons of creative variation. Savory panuozzos can be made with any of the hot sandwich classics, like ham, turkey, meatballs, provolone, mushrooms, tomatoes, roasted peppers, and the list goes on. The second bake for these sandwiches lets everything warm through. To maintain the freshness of fillings like raw vegetables and herbs, add your cheese on the second bake only. Then, allow the panuozzo to cool somewhat before adding the raw ingredients. This gives great temperature contrast to each bite while ensuring you still get melty, pull-apart cheese in the sandwich.

Panuozzo can also be used in sweeter ways. It is an undeniable way to honor Italian ingredients like figs, pistachios, hazelnuts, and even gelato! Various fruits with mild acidity also work well with pizza-like dishes. Depending on what's in season, whether it's peaches, apples, or melon, these can be added and baked slightly to bring out their natural sweetness. From there, you could continue in a sweet direction by adding honey or Nutella. Alternatively, you could pair the fruit with savory ingredients like things that usually go on an Italian sub. Don't let any of the purists hold you back when you make these at home. Let your palate guide you on your panuozzo journey.