When visiting Palermo, Sicily, a “must do” on everyone’s list should be to explore the bustling outdoor markets. Last year, while exploring all that Sicily had to offer, that’s the first thing Jack and I did when we got to Palermo. The Ballaro, the Capo and the Vucceria are in central Palermo, each a cacophony of sights and sounds with their souk-like alleys, (reminiscent of those I’ve walked in Cairo) offering everything including fruits and vegetables, olives and garlic, fish, meats, breads, cheeses and so much more.
Snacking while you shop is the best part. I especially enjoy the stuffed rice balls, called arancini but, it is the Sfincione, the quintessential pizza of Palermo, that is my favorite street food. This thick, rustic pizza with anchovies, onions, tomato sauce, cheese and breadcrumbs, is available by the slice from street vendors and bakeries throughout the city.
This popular pizza is baked in large rectangular pans and cut into perfect-for-walking-and-eating sized rectangular portions. The crust is light and spongy, rather than dense and chewy and the oiled pan creates a crisp bottom while the topping of breadcrumbs and cheese results in a crispy top. Cacciocavallo, a hard Sicilian sheep’s-milk cheese, is the cheese of choice or Pecorino-Romano. Traditional sfincioni never uses mozzarella.
I’m nor certain why, but my aunt Dorothy was the only one in the family who ever made this pizza. She always brought it to family gatherings in the same shallow, sturdy gift-type box. Inside the parchment-lined container and in a single layer was the sfincioni cut into just-the-right size rectangles. I have fond memories of her lifting the lid just long enough for my young siblings and cousins to sneak a piece before she brought it to the kitchen.
If you have never made pizza before or are a bit intimidated about making the dough … don’t be, as this dough requires no rolling or tossing into the air, rather you just press it into the pan. The only critical element is to check the expiration date of the yeast. Yeast is a living organism and will produce the best results when using fresh yeast and water that is between 100 -110 degrees (liquids that are too hot can kill it).
Also, don’t let the anchovies turn you off, as they add such a subtle flavor as they melt into the dough, that if you weren’t the one adding them to the pizza, you might not even know they were there.
Regarding the tomato sauce; If I don’t have some in the freezer (previously made) I do not always make the recipe in the link below, unless I plan on using it for other dishes. More often than not, I use canned crushed tomatoes (Contadina brand-Roma style tomatoes crushed with sea salt).
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2/3 cup water (100-110*)
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 3 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (Delicate)
- Using a glass measuring cup or a small bowl, dissolve the sugar into the warm water and then whisk in the yeast. Set aside for 10-12 minutes as it produces a bubbly foam. (The active yeast feeds on the sugar and forms the foam on the surface from the carbon dioxide being released. This is what’s called proofing the yeast).
- Put the flour and salt into a bowl, make a well in the center and pour in the water with the yeast. (You can also use a Kitchen-Aid mixer with a paddle). Mix well, adding an additional 1/2 cup fresh water to form the dough.
- Knead the dough either by hand or in the mixer (replace paddle with dough hook) for 8-10 minutes. The dough will be soft and pliable. Add the olive oil and continue to knead until the dough is elastic smooth (5-6 minutes). If using the mixer, scrape down the dough on the hook occasionally.
- Form the dough into a ball and place in a large (the dough will triple in size), lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest in a warm place for at least 3 hours.
- Prepare the topping.
- 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided (plus more for oiling the pan)
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tin oil-packed anchovy fillets (2-ounces)
- 1 cup tomato sauce or canned crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Extra-virgin olive oil (Medium) for final drizzle
- Using a saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and toast the breadcrumbs. When cool, transfer to a small bowl and stir in the cheese.
- In the same pan, add the other 2 tablespoons of oil and cook the onions until tender and translucent. Set aside.
- Oil a rimmed 12 x 17-inch baking sheet and press the dough in the pan. This isn’t difficult but, it does require a bit of patience. I use two fingers to gently push the dough around until it reaches the corners eventually evening out and filling the entire pan. Rub a little olive oil on your fingers if necessary, as it seems to help the process.
- Chop 6-8 anchovies (I use the entire tin) and arrange evenly on top of the dough, gently pressing them in.
- Spread the onions on top and then spoon the sauce or crushed tomatoes over the onions. Sprinkle with oregano.
- Scatter the breadcrumb and cheese mixture over the top. Drizzle with olive oil and cover with foil and a kitchen towel and let rest in a warm place for 30 minutes.
- Remove the foil and bake in a 425* oven for 35 minutes.
To serve, lift the pizza from the pan (cut in half for easier handling if necessary) and place on a large wooden cutting board or pizza peel and then cut into rectangles … or you can do as I do and place the pieces in a parchment-lined gift box to delight children of all ages!