The Murky Difference Between A Stromboli And A Calzone

If you've ever been confused about calzones and strombolis, you're not alone. The two Italian food favorites do have a number of things in common, but they are not the same. Both are a riff on a stuffed pizza, made with the same sort of dough and often the same cheeses, sauce, and toppings, but everything else — from their origins to their fillings, and how they are prepared and served — are quite different.

For starters, they're not both from Italy. Calzones are a traditional Italian dish believed to have originated in Naples sometime in the 1700s, devised as a way to make pizza more portable as a handheld street food. The portability of its design is even reflected in its name; calzoni (the plural of calzone) in Italian translates to pants or trousers, implying the motion of walking.

Stromboli, on the other hand, is an Italian-American creation made popular in the 1950s, and the restaurant that claims to have invented it, Romano's Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria in Philadelphia, is still open today. Owned and operated by Nazzareno "Nat" Romano, himself an Italian immigrant, Nat took his traditional pizza dough and stuffed it with meat, vegetables, and cheese, then baked it as a rolled-up log. Its name was chosen somewhat at random when a customer suggested "Stromboli," the name of a popular film at the time. The film's name comes from an actual Italian island located off the coast of Sicily — where Mount Stromboli is still an active volcano.

You can tell them apart by their shape

The first main difference you're likely to notice is that calzones and stromboli have completely different shapes. Both begin with rolled-out pizza dough, but one starts out round while the other starts off as a rectangle. To make a calzone, the dough is first rolled into a ball, which is then flattened and stretched out until it forms a circle. The fillings get added to one portion of the circle, and then the remaining free portion of the dough gets folded over, giving the calzone its classic half-moon appearance. The dough is closed up all around the opening either by flattening or crimping, enclosing all the tasty stuffings within.

For a stromboli, the rectangular piece of dough is filled and then folded over onto itself, or in some cases, it is rolled up like a pastry or roulade. The edges also get sealed, though sometimes the ends are left open.

The sizes and serving styles of both dishes are different too. Recalling the street food nature of calzones, these are meant to be a single-serving meal on the go. With everything enclosed, they can easily be eaten without a knife and fork. Originally, they were made much smaller too — nowhere near as big as some of the giant calzones you might get served today. In contrast, stromboli are larger, almost always served sliced and eaten on a plate, and are usually enough food to feed a few people.

It's the fillings that make them unique

One big distinction between the two is how they are sauced. Stromboli is typically baked with marinara sauce inside — while a calzone is not usually made with any sauce — although it's common to have it served on the side for dipping.

The other main varying factor is the cheese. A calzone is made with ricotta cheese, sometimes blended with Parmesan or mozzarella. A stromboli, however, is not made with ricotta but usually just contains mozzarella.

Vegetables and cured meats are common fillings for both, with the sort of tasty toppings you might expect on pizza, like onions, bell peppers, olives, and artichokes, plus meats like pepperoni and Italian sausage. Stromboli more often contains sandwich style meats too, like salami, prosciutto, or capicola. Of course, rules can be broken, and either one of these traditional dishes can be prepared with unconventional ingredients. For a totally different take, bell pepper and spinach stromboli can optionally be made with vegan cheese or nutritional yeast. Instead of spinach, calzone with sausage, greens, and ricotta can switch things up with beet greens, Swiss chard, escarole, or radicchio for a fresh twist. Romano's, home of the original stromboli, serves theirs with interesting additions such as cotechino (pork sausage), ham, or meatballs. There's even a Super Bowl inspired "Philly Special" stromboli made with chopped steak, mushrooms, roasted bell peppers, American cheese, and fried onions.