A picture of a homemade Sicilian pizza

Sicilian Pizza – Characteristics, History, and General Preparation

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What is Sicilian pizza, what are its defining characteristics and historical background, what can you expect when eating it, and how is it generally prepared? This post will provide you with all the details about Sicilian pizza

General Background and Characteristics

Wait… Why is the Sicilian pizza included in the chapter about US pizzas?..
Allow me to clarify:

The “original” Sicilian pizza is called Sfincione; And the “Sicilian” pizza as we know it today, is actually an American adaptation of Sfincione. Interestingly, when visiting Sicily, it is rare to find a pizzeria, restaurant, or bakery offering “Sicilian pizza”; Instead, you will come across Sfincione, a traditional Sicilian dish that Sicilians do not view as “pizza,” but rather as a type of bread served as a side dish.It is debated whether the term “Sicilian pizza” was specifically coined in the US to refer to the American version of the Sfincione. The connection to the original dish from Sicily is tenuous, similar to the word hamburger, which includes a reference to Hamburg in Germany, even though the hamburger itself was not necessarily invented or exist there in its modern version as it evolved in the USA. Now, having clarified this matter, we can move on to discussing the pizza itself.

The Sicilian pizza is baked in a greased square pan and served cut into squares. Typically, its dough is similar to the New York pizza dough, as many pizzerias use the same dough for both styles of pizza. The Sicilian pizza is characterized by a relatively thick crust with a crispy bottom and a soft, chewy, and relatively dense crumb, which slightly resembles bread or focaccia. The toppings on the Sicilian pizza vary, ranging from plain tomatoes and cheese to combinations of vegetables and meats.

A variation of the Sicilian pizza is the Grandma Style Pizza, named after Italian grandmothers who would prepare it for their families at home. The Grandma Style Pizza is almost identical to the Sicilian pizza, with the main difference being the thickness – generally, a Grandma pizza will be thinner than the Sicilian pizza.

Just like the New York Slice (and the Italian Al Taglio), Sicilian pizza is sold by the square. In many cases, you can find Sicilian pizza in pizzerias that also sell “regular” round pizzas.
Two famous pizzerias in New York known for their Sicilian pizza are Di Fara and Artichoke Basille.

Roots and History of Sicilian Pizza

In the chapter discussing the origins of Neapolitan pizza, I mentioned that ancient civilizations created various types of flatbreads; This is how Sicilian pizza, specifically Sfincione, came to be. It is believed that the ancient Greeks introduced the concept of baking flatbreads in Sicily, which continued during the Roman Empire when focaccia-style flatbreads with toppings of olive oil and herbs were baked.

As we have seen with the previous pizza styles, over time these flatbreads were refined and began to resemble the pizza we know today. This is how the Sicilian Sfincione, meaning “thick sponge,” was born.

The Sfincione is a thick flatbread topped with traditional ingredients such as tomato sauce, onion, anchovies, and bread crumbs (without cheese). It originated in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, in the mid-19th century. The Sfincione is one of the oldest forms of “pizza,” and interestingly enough, it was (also) initially created as food for the less fortunate; and today, it is considered a cultural and culinary symbol of Sicily.

In the 1920s, the Sfincione migrated to the USA along with a large wave of immigrants from southern regions of Italy, including Rome, Campania, Calabria, and Sicily. The exact time when the Sfincione in the US was called “Sicilian pizza” is unclear; However, culinary researchers widely believe that this change occurred in Brooklyn, New York, most likely during the Great Depression.Variations of the Sfincione made their way from immigrant homes and started appearing on menus at famous pizzerias in Brooklyn. This is when the Sfincione likely took on its “final” form, inspired by the round pizzas that were being sold at the time, known today as New York Pizza. The Sicilian pizza consisted of tomato sauce, hard cheese (pecorino), and mozzarella. The toppings were influenced by New York (Naples), while the shape and preparation methods were influenced by Sicily. Thus, the Sicilian pizza was born, which is still considered the most popular style in the Brooklyn area and beyond.

In summary, although the Sicilian pizza is not exactly the same as the original Sfincione, it represents an important historical milestone, showcasing the evolution and diversity in the world of pizza. Oh, and it’s also delicious (and personally one of my favorite styles of pizza), which is just as important.

Eating Characteristics of Sicilian Pizza

The Sicilian pizza is famous for its thick crust, square cut, and crispy bottom. It has a unique crumb texture, chewy and sponge-like. If you enjoy thick crust pizzas with a chewy texture and a crispy outer crust, you should definitely try the Sicilian pizza.To avoid confusion between Sicilian pizza and Al Taglio pizza, it is important to understand the main differences in their preparation and the resulting product:

(1) Dough hydration: Al Taglio pizza has a higher dough hydration compared to Sicilian pizza (75% or higher for Al Taglio compared to 58-65% for Sicilian).
(2) Fermentation and dough stretching: Sicilian pizza is fermented in a pan, whereas Al Taglio pizza is fermented outside the pan and then stretched into it just before baking.

Regarding the final product, Sicilian pizza has a soft but relatively dense and chewy crust/crumb, while Al Taglio pizza has a very light and crispy crust, thanks to its higher dough hydration.

Preparation of Sicilian Pizza

As mentioned earlier, the Sicilian dough formula is very similar, if not identical, to that of New York pizza dough. The dough is fermented in a greased pan.

Typically, the Sicilian pizza is par-baked, although the specific method may vary among pizzerias. The dough is first par-baked, either with or without a small amount of sauce, then undergoes a final baking with the remaining sauce and toppings. The baking temperature is typically around 280C/530F, and the total baking time is approximately 10 minutes.

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