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What Is Sicilian Pizza?

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Sicilian pizza
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What is Sicilian and Sicilian-Style Pizza?

Sicilian pizza has two variations: the kind that originated in Sicily, Italy and the version that evolved in New York and the rest of the United States. The original, authentic version from Sicily that most people refer to comes from Palermo (other regions in Sicily have other varieties, such as the scacciata ) and is called sfincione (loosely translated as “thick sponge”) and is usually sold in bakeries, or panificios. It is a fluffy, spongy bread (similar to focaccia) topped with a sauce made from tomatoes, onions, herbs, and anchovies, which is then covered with bread crumbs and an optional grating of hard cheese that is baked in a square tray. In New York and the rest of the United States, what has become known as “Sicilian-Style” has the same thicker, square base, but it is usually topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Sometimes the sauce is on top of the cheese. p>

History of Sicilian Pizza

In Sicily, pizza and sfincione were popular by the mid-19th century. It is likely that sfincione evolved from the much older focaccia and sfincione evolved into what we today call Sicilian-style pizza in the United States.

Traditionally, sfincione is often served on the eve of the December 7th, before the Immaculate Conception Day, Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and Good Friday, but it also enjoyed all year long. In warmer months it is usually served at room temperature.

Traditional sfincione does not use mozzarella because most of the milk produced in Sicily comes from sheep and goats, not cows. Sicily did make cows’ milk cheese for export, but fresh cheeses, like mozzarella, were difficult to export due to their shorter shelf life, unlike hard cheeses.

Sicilian-style pizza was brought to the United States from Sicilian immigrants and became popular with returning soldiers who were stationed in Italy in World War II, especially in New York, Boston, and Detroit, where Detroit-style pizza is a descendant of Sicilian pizza. Italian bakeries in New York City would have had access to cheap mozzarella because of New York State's dairy cow industry in the early 20th century, so they probably began to top their Sicilian sfinciones with mozzarella. Soon, the term pizza began to encompass any type of bread-crust topped with sauce and cheese.

What Goes into a Sicilian Pizza?

An authentic Sicilian pizza or sfincione is made with a thick, spongy dough that is made from a mixture of flour, water, yeast, and olive oil that is allowed to ferment and rise. The dough is pressed into a well-oiled square baking pan and then topped with a sauce made from onions sautéed in olive oil, chopped anchovies, tomatoes, and spices like oregano and crushed red pepper. The sauce is covered with bread crumbs and grated caciocavallo cheese and then baked in a hot oven. The spongy dough will soak up the olive oil at the bottom of the pan and create a crispy, charred bottom, while the middle will remain soft and spongy. For Sicilian-style pizza, use the same kind of spongy dough pressed into a well- oiled square baking pan, but top with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh.
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