Calzone vs. Stromboli: What’s the Difference?

Strombolis and calzones might seem the same, but they actually differ in some crucial ways.
Strombolis and calzones might seem the same, but they actually differ in some crucial ways. / GIUSEPPE GRECO/Moment/Getty Images

If you don’t order a pie or a slice from your local pizza place, chances are you’re getting one of two things. Strombolis and calzones are pizzeria staples for a reason—they consist of many of the same ingredients as a pizza, and can easily be assembled using dough scraps and leftover toppings. Though their ingredient lists look similar, these two Italian-American specialities differ in some crucial ways.

According to Bon Appétit, the biggest factor separating strombolis from calzones is how they’re assembled. Both recipes start with a base of pizza or bread dough. Then, the filling is added. This usually consists of cheese and pizza toppings like sausage, pepperoni, or vegetables. The next step determines the designation of the dish. To make a calzone, the chef will fold the circular sheet of dough over itself once and crimp the edges together to make a puffy, half-moon shape. The rectangular sheet of stromboli dough is rolled up length-wise like a cinnamon roll and sealed by pressing it together at both ends. While sharing a calzone between more than two people is a messy endeavor, strombolis are designed to be sliced up and portioned out between multiple diners.

Looking at the shapes of the dough masses behind the pizza counter is the quickest way to determine what you’re ordering. If it looks like a giant, shiny empanada, it’s a calzone, whereas the log-shaped option with slits on top is a stromboli. But presentation isn’t the only characteristic setting these self-contained meals apart. The ingredients inside them also vary slightly—while both dishes typically contain mozzarella cheese, ricotta is unique to calzones. Strombolis may come with the tomato sauce baked in; calzones, on the other hand, always come with marinara sauce served on the side and never as a filling.

There’s one more quality that distinguishes calzones from strombolis, but you can’t figure it out by looking at them or even tasting them. Though both are associated with Italian cuisine, only one is authentically Italian. Calzones originated in Naples as a portable alternative to pizza. The name translates to “pants leg” because customers could enjoy the doughy package while walking around with it rather than sitting down to eat a pizza with a knife and fork. (Unlike modern New York-style pizza, Naples-style Italian pizza doesn’t come by the structurally sound slice.)

Strombolis were invented across the Atlantic in the 1950s. An Italian-American pizza shop owner from South Philadelphia named Nazzareno “Nat” Romano had the idea to serve pizza in the style of a stuffed loaf of bread. His future brother-in-law William Schofield suggested naming the creation after a new Ingrid Bergman movie making tabloid headlines at the time. Now, along with calzones, strombolis are a go-to option for when a slice of pizza just won’t cut it.

[h/t Bon Appétit]