Delicious sfincione is a very common street food in parts of Sicily. Its name is believed to have come from the Latin word ‘sfincia’ which means sponge. During what I call ‘my Sicily years’ when I spent a lot of time there, this was my go-to snack – its crispy airy crust is smeared with a savory sauce of onions, anchovies, tomatoes, and oregano and then topped with grated cheese and breadcrumbs. It is my pizza heaven. 😍 (My mouth is watering as I typed those last sentences.)
Growing up in Phillipsburg, NJ, there was a bakery called the New York Italian Bakery, an institution that had been around for over 40 years. I can still remember how excited we would be when we would jump in our Dad’s station wagon for a trip to the bakery. I have such a vivid memory of the smell inside that magical bakery – the smell of the piles and piles of breads and Italian cookies gleaming behind the glass display cases – but my favorite display case was the one that held the trays of Sicilian pizza, oily and thick and tomatoey. 😋 Heaven was indeed when we were allowed to have a slice. They scooped a slice out of the pan and handed it over, oily against the parchment paper. We were made to wait until we were back in the car to eat our prized possession and devour it we did. The version of my childhood, slightly different but similar in nature with its thick crust and sauce, is common in many Italian bakeries here in the US, perhaps evolved from the original sfincione.
This recipe is actually quite simple and approachable. The most time-consuming part is letting the dough rise but you can go off and do other things while it is doing its thing. I made this nearly on repeat over the holidays as it is perfect as an afternoon snack, as part of an antipasto board, or at midnite after that pile of dishes is done.
And please don’t let making fresh dough stop you from making this recipe! It is quite rewarding. You can do it by hand (very relaxing to knead the dough!) or with a stand mixer if you have one. Just be sure to give it a nice warm spot in which to rise. I typically put the dough in the oven with the light on for a bit of warmth. I recently was given a tip for helping that dough rise – fill a rectangular baking dish with boiling water and place on the floor of the oven. It creates a magical steamy environment for the yeast and works like magic.
I thought a step-by-step might be useful to see how this comes together.
Make the dough and let it proof until triple in size:
While the dough is rising, make the tomato/onion sauce:
Once the dough has risen, stretch it and allow it to rise again. Then add the delicious toppings and bake.
A few tips for making sfincione:
- This dough is meant to be a soft dough so avoid the temptation to add a ton more flour. If you do add flour, add in about 1 tablespoon at a time until you have a workable dough.
- To get that dough to rise try placing the dough in your oven with the oven light on to add a bit of warmth. Place a 9-by-13-inch baking dish on the floor of the oven and pour boiling water into the dish. This will create a nice steamy environment for your dough to rise and works like magic.
- The sauce can be made up to a week in advance and stored in the fridge.
- Sfincione is typically topped with a sharp grated cheese called caciocavallo, which is difficult to find here in the US. You can probably find it at an Italian deli or market. For this recipe, I have used Pecorino Romano which is a great substitute.
And with that, I am off to have a piece of sfincione with my morning coffee 😉
Tanti baci! xx
This Sicilian street food is simpler to make than you might think – and results in a crispy, savory pizza topped with a thick tomato sauce flavored with onions and anchovies. Pizza heaven on a plate!
For the dough:
- 1 package regular or rapid-rise yeast (8g)
- 1 1/3 cups lukewarm water (320 ml)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (500g)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for greasing the bowl
For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 6 to 8 oil-packed anchovies
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Sicilian
- Kosher salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Oil-packed anchovies (optional)
- About 1/3 cup dry unseasoned breadcrumbs
- About 1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
- Dried oregano
Make the dough:
1. In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let sit for about 10 minutes until bubbles start to form on the surface.
2. If mixing by hand: In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. Once the yeast is bubbly, make a well in the center of the flour and add in the water/yeast mixture and the olive oil. Stir using a wooden spoon to form a shaggy dough. Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add just a bit more flour until you are able to work the dough. (This is meant to be a soft dough so avoid adding too much flour.)
If using a stand mixer: Add the flour, salt, and sugar to the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Combine on low speed. Once the yeast is bubbly, pour into the bowl along with the olive oil. Turn mixture to medium speed and mix for 8-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
3. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and place in a warm location to rise for 2 to 3 hours or until doubled in size.
Make the sauce:
4. While the dough is rising, make the sauce; In a medium pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
5. Add the anchovies and stir, breaking them up as they cook with the onions. Add the tomatoes, crushing the whole tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Stir in the oregano. Reduce heat to low and simmer the sauce for 15 minutes until deep red and thickened. Season to taste with salt. Set aside.
Assemble the pizza:
6. Once the dough has risen, generously oil a 9×13 inch baking sheet. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on the baking sheet. Using your fingertips, stretch the dough to cover the surface of the pan. The dough may resist so it may take a few attempts to get it to the corners. Just let it rest in between stretches and it will finally give in. Once stretched, cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let it rise for 30 minutes to an hour at room temperature to allow it to double in size.
7. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. If using anchovies, cut them into about 1-inch pieces and distribute evenly across the surface of the dough. (Alternatively, you can leave them whole for those anchovy lovers.) Cover the surface with the prepared sauce.
8. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and grated cheese over the entire surface. Sprinkle with dried oregano and lightly drizzle the entire pizza with extra-virgin olive oil.
9. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until the bottom is nicely browned and the breadcrumbs are crisp. Start checking the pizza at about 20 minutes. If the top starts to brown too quickly, tent with foil.
10. Remove from the oven and let the pizza rest for about 5 minutes. Cut into slices and serve!
The dough is meant to be a soft dough so avoid the temptation to add a lot more flour. If you do add flour, add in about 1 tablespoon at a time until you have a workable dough.
To get that dough to rise, try placing the dough in your oven with the oven light on to add a bit of warmth. Place a 9-by-13-inch baking dish on the floor of the oven and pour boiling water into the dish. This will create a nice steamy environment for your dough to rise.
The sauce can be made up to a week in advance and stored in the fridge.
Sfincione is typically topped with a sharp grated cheese called caciocavallo, which is difficult to find here in the US. You can probably find it at an Italian deli or market. For this recipe, I have used Pecorino Romano which is a great substitute.