Pizza is a widespread food in cuisines across the world. However, in every country, every region and even in every town, what “pizza” means may vary.
One area may prefer a ticker crust while other opts for thinner. Some places put cheese on before sauce, and others might skip sauce all together.
However, if you are looking for an authentic Sicilian Pizza, then you are looking for Sfincione. Let’s take a look at this delicious, specialty pizza.
Various kinds of rustic breads, loaded with topping and typically a tomato-based sauce, were common in Italy out of a need to prepare long-lasting foods that were easy to take from home.
Sicilian pizza was developed to fill the need (and the bellies) of workers for a meal that would fuel them throughout the day. Sfincione started in just such a way.
It was inexpensive, easy to make and would hold up well all day long. However, Sfincione, as it is known today, was initially prepared at Christmas time in the Palermo area. It became widely popular as a pizza eaten at particular times of the year, including New Years and for the Feast of San Giovanni.
Now, the pizza is made year-round and can be purchased from almost any vendor, especially in the Alberghiera district, where you may see people selling sfincione on three-wheel motorcycles!
The name sfincione derives from the Latin word spongia, which means sponge. It got this name thanks to the spongy, soft consistency of the dough.
However, many people may argue that the name stems from the Arabic word “sfang” which means a pancake sweetened with honey.
Either way, sfincione is both spongy and sweet (however, now sweetened mostly with sugar rather than honey)!
You may still be wondering what is sfincione, and we are here to answer!
Essentially, it is a fluffy, light, rectangular dough topped with onions, tomatoes, anchovies, oregano and a hard Sicilian sheep’s milk cheese.
Breadcrumbs are sprinkled over the surface to make a crispy to layer to top off the pizza.
This combination of ingredients has remained standard and almost required of sfincione and make the pizza truly authentic.
The dough for this authentic Sicilian pizza may vary slightly depending on the sfincione recipe you use.
However, the dough is always sweetened with sugar or honey and leavened with yeast.
Since the dough does need to rise, it can take some time to prepare. It will not take longer than any other pizza recipe, so do not be scared! You can opt to use a prepared pizza dough but it is much more fun to make your own!
The yeast is mixed with the water and sweetener, then left to bubble which is an indication that the yeast was activated. Then, the flour and salt are blended in and the dough is kneaded well, until nice and smooth.
The dough is placed in a bowl, covered and left to rise for three hours, allowing it to double in size and achieve that “spongy” texture that sfincione is named for!
Once the dough is prepared, it is pressed into a rimmed sheet tray. The dough should still be about an inch thick in order to achieve that chewy, fluffy pizza crust. The dough is then ready for the toppings!
The toppings you use on the pizza should be high quality and carefully chosen in order to make the dish perfect.
For example, the type of tomatoes you choose to use in the sauce can alter the taste dramatically.
A tomato that is too acidic will taste tart and one that is too sweet may overpower the savory flavors of the sfincione. If possible, use San Marzano tomatoes which are a perfect sauce tomato.
Look for a hard sheep’s milk cheese that you can grate over the pizza.
This is key to making your sfincione authentic. If you cannot find one in your area, a pecorino cheese will do just fine and is quite common in sfincione in the US. Soft goat cheese can also be used and will give you a nice strong taste.
Anchovy slices are traditionally laid sporadically across the dough but you may choose to blend them into the sauce or chop them finely to distribute them more evenly.
If you are looking for the true, Sicilian sfincione, keep the filets whole and place them around the pizza!
The pizza bakes quite quickly and will be ready to eat in just 15 minutes so be sure you are ready too- this dish is best enjoyed hot!
Stick with tradition and enjoy this Sicilian pizza at your next New Years’ Eve celebration or any day you are craving something truly Italian! Enjoy.