SFINCIONE….pronounce it with me…SFEEN-CHEE-OWNAY. Nice, you’ve said it. Speaking like a Sicilian because this is the pizza that our SicilianAmerican Pizzeria SICILIAN PIZZA has roots in. A risen dough pressed into a rectangular pan, somewhat thick, then topped with a slow cooked tomato sauce loaded with onions. On top of that is a layer of breadcrumbs, anchovies and Sicilian grated cheese, like a Caciocavallo, but Provolone or Pecorino Romano work too. Caciocavallo isn’t always available. A little Sicilian Oregano, Sicilian Olive Oil and this bakes into a delicious treat. My Sicilian born Paternal Grandmother made this and hers had lots of onions on it. Maybe I get my love of anything with lots of onions from her. Grazie Grandma Battaglia. Sfincione made this way seems like it may have its origins in the Western part of Sicily, especially the Palermo region. As with most Italian dishes there are wide variations and what’s most popular will always be one version that seems to be the most popular. Mine is the more popular version. There are Sfincione that are also stuffed, or sparsely topped. Mine is closer to the Sfincione (also spelled Sfingiuni) Palermitano. Sfincione denotes a larger version of Sfince or Sfingi…those fried dough creations. The heart of the word SFINCE means “spongy” and it’s a reference to the spongy dough used to make these treats. Interesting stuff. Next time you bite into a wonderful square of Sicilian Pizza you’ll now know where its origins are from. So happy to have been introduced to this dish by my grandmother who, btw, never called it Sfincione. She just called it A’Pizz.
As they say in Palermo…” Scairsu r’uogghiu e chin’i pruvulazzu”… meaning Top it with a little Olive Oil and lots of dust….
MY VERSION OF LO SFINCIONE
for the SFINGE, the Spongy Dough
3 1/2 CUPS OF TIPO 00 FLOUR OR SIFTED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR
2 1/2 TEASPOONS OF GRANULATED DRY YEAST DISSOLVED IN 1 1/4 CUP OF WARM WATER WITH 1 TSP. SEA SALT (FINE GROUND, NOT COARSE) let this sit for 15 minutes or until it’s foamy on top.
On a large working surface or board pile the flour into a mound then create a well in the center. Pour the yeast and water mixture into the center and gently work the flour and water together until it’s all incorportated and you can easily knead it into a ball. Cover this with a towel and let it rest for up to 5 hours.
for the topping:
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sicilian if possible.
3 MEDIUM ONIONS SLICED THIN
1 CAN ITALIAN PEELED PLUM TOMATOES, SAN MARZANO WORK
1/2 CAN ITALIAN IMPORTED TOMATO PASTE
1ANCHOVY FILET, CHOPPED
3/4 LB COARSELY GRATED CACIOCAVALLO (A SICILIAN/SOUTHERN ITALIAN CHEESE)..IF NOT AVAILABLE PECORINO ROMANO OR SHARP PROVOLONE (BOTH FROM ITALY) CAN BE USED
1 TBS. DRIED SICILIAN OREGANO
1 1/2 CUPS ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS (UNSEASONED)
In a large heavy pan heat 1 tbs of olive oil. When it gets hot add the onions tossing them well in the hot oil. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Continue to cook over high heat stirring frequently then add 1 chopped anchovy and a pinch of Oregano. Let this cook on medium until the onions are soft. DON’T RUSH THIS!! The longer the onions cook…the better this will taste!! After about 25 minutes add the Tomato paste and blend in well. Cook for 5 minutes. Now with your hands crush the tomatoes and add to the pan. Mix. Add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, stir, then reduce to a simmer and let this good as long as it has to so it becomes thick. Rule of thumb, it will cook for at least 1 hour. No liquid pools should be accumulating on the top.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Well oil (grease) a Rectangular 1/2 sheet baking pan and press the dough into the pan all the way up to the sides. Dough should be about 1 inch thick. Brush the top with olive oil…a sprinkle of sea salt, black pepper, and 1/2 cup of the grated cheese. Then top with the tomato and onion mixture. Now top with the remaining cheese mixed into the breadcrumbs along with the remaining oregano. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for at least 15 minutes being careful not to burn it. When done the bottom is nice and browned as is the top, more of a golden brown. It’s amazing. As always, ovens are all calibrated differently. My recipes are tested in my oven. There may always be a temperature/heat difference in your oven so adjust accordingly. If there is one thing I hope every home cook can learn, is that this recipe is a guide. Follow it and you’ll be happy with the results but common sense always needs to come in and if your sfincione isn’t quite done when my directions say it is…bake for longer. Just pay attention to it. When the pie is cooled down a bit cut into squares and serve. Can be served warm or at room temperature. It’s a wonderful addition to a Christmas Eve La Vigilia seafood buffet. And as a closing note…can we please stop the debate on Italian Seafood and cheese? Here is an example of seafood and cheese being paired. Not an Italianamerican idea, or a mistake. It’s how it’s done. Enjoy.