Sfincione is the pizza of Sicily: contrary to its Neapolitan counterpart, which is generally round, sold in individual portions, with a thick cornicione, a thin centre and not too much topping, sfincione is generally baked in large trays and sold cut up in hefty portions (even if there are also small, individual sfincioni, called sfincionelli, approximately 300 g each); it is quite thick all over, with a soft and pillowy dough (sometimes a little lard is added to the dough, which I greatly approve of) and it is laden with toppings. It is another thing altogether and something I urge you to explore – sfincione lends itself to domestic home baking much better than Neapolitan pizza.
There are very many versions, as usual, with each Sicilian district pushing forward its own sfincione. The generous topping, spread up to the edges, is generally a cooked tomato sauce made with lots of onions, anchovies, caciocavallo or tuma cheese, breadcrumbs and plenty of olive oil. Sfincione is generally eaten at room temperature and it makes ideal street food.
It is a typically local speciality that you won’t find elsewhere in Italy, but that is actually well known in those parts of the world where Sicilian immigrants settled and prospered, the US first of all, whose deep pan pizza developed from sfincione.
The following is my version of sfincione di Bagheria, a town only a few kilometres away from Palermo and that, of course, boasts its own sfincione. Here the topping is heavy on onions (or shalots), with no tomato sauce (or very little), ricotta, tuma cheese (a young, unsalted sheep milk, which I replaced with a very mild cheddar, God forgive me), anchovies and stale breadcrumbs. Even if you do not understand Italian, do watch this video where Bagheria’s bakers explain their sfincione (it is also invaluable to watch how dough should be handled). You will need approximately 500 g proofed pizza dough for this recipe.
Sfincione di Bagheria
a non stick oven tray 31 x 42 cm, very lightly oiled
500 g pizza dough, enriched with oil or lard to make it soft. The supple dough should be rolled out as shown at minute 8.32 of this video. You are aiming at a sort of oblong, about 3 cm thick. By the time you do this, your topping must be ready and cool.
3 large red onions, diced small
1 tablespoon tomato puré
anchovy fillets preserved in oil (I love them and I use a whole small tin: 30 g, net weight, keeping their oil)
50 g tuma cheese (I used a young mild cheddar), thinly sliced
100 g ricotta (ideally sheep)
The breadcrumb topping::
25 g fresh or stale coarse breadcrumbs
15 g caciocavallo cheese, grated (or sharp pecorino)
30 ml oil
Cook the onions in some water, drain them and brown/caramelize them with a little oil, adding the tomato puré towards the end.
Mix the ingredients of the breadcrumb topping
Roll out the dough and drizzle with the anchovy oil. Add the sliced cheese, dollops of ricotta, the onions and the breadcrumb topping.
Poke the topping into the dough, as if making a focaccia. Let the sfincione proof in the oven for a couple of hours (I generally place a mug of boiling water in the oven to create a steamy environment: this will prevent the sfincione from drying out and it will help the final proofing).
Remove the sfincione and heat up the oven to 250 C.
Cook the sfincione in the hottest part of your oven for about 30 minutes.
Let it rest for ten minutes and then transfer it onto a cooling rack (removing it from the tin). Eat at room temperature.
In her “Essentials”, Marcella Hazan describes sfincione as a double faced pizza: this is now actually more rare than when Hazan wrote the book, the most common sfincione in contemporary Sicily being an open face one. An excellent exception to this (and in tune with Hazan) is the glorious sfincione di san Vito, where a mixed meat ragu is encased in two layers of dough. I tried Hazan’s version and I can swear by it.
Sfincione reheats beautifully
Pizza dough: this would be my dough of choice – truly easy and spectacular.