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 Real Deal
The original, authentic version from Sicily 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 base (similar to focaccia) topped with a meatless sauce made from tomatoes, onions, herbs, and anchovies, which is then covered with bread crumbs and an optional grating of hard cheese and baked in a square tray.
Traditional sfincione does not use mozzarella because most of the milk produced in Sicily comes from sheep and goats, not cows.
New York-Style Sicilian Pizza
In New York and the rest of the United States, what has become known as Sicilian-Style pizza 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.
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.
Sicilian-style pizza was brought to the United States by Sicilian immigrants. 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.
Returning World War II soldiers who had been stationed in Italy clamored for the taste of pizza, Sicilian or otherwise, in New York, Boston, and Detroit and a culinary trend began. In fact, Detroit-style pizza is a descendant of Sicilian pizza.
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 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 breadcrumbs 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 New York-style Sicilian 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.
When Is It Served in Italy?
Traditionally, meatless sfincione is served on Dec. 7 which is the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and Good Friday, but it also is enjoyed all year long. In warmer months it is usually served at room temperature.