What Is Sicilian Pizza?

The original Italian version is called sfincione

Sicilian Pizza
Jupiterimages / Getty Images

When it comes to ordering pizza, in addition to picking pizza toppings, we also have to choose what type of pizza we want—whether thin crust, deep dish, regular, or Sicilian. Most of us know Sicilian as the ultra-thick, square pie topped with sauce and cheese. However, 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.

Italian Sicilian Pizza

The original, authentic version from Sicily comes from Palermo and is called sfincione, which loosely translates as "thick sponge." Sicilian pizza has a fluffy, spongy bread base topped with a meatless sauce made from tomatoes, onions, herbs, and anchovies, which is covered with breadcrumbs and an optional grating of hard cheese. It is then 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. You will find sfincione usually sold in bakeries or panificios.

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

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, Italian yeast bread that is baked in a flat sheet pan. Then 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. The addition of mozzarella was most likely due to the fact that Italian bakeries in New York City would have had access to cheap mozzarella due to New York State's dairy cow industry in the early 20th century. 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. 

In New York and the rest of the United States, what has become known as Sicilian-Style pizza has the same thick, square base, but it is usually topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Sometimes the sauce is on top of the cheese.

Ingredients of Sicilian Pizza

An authentic Sicilian pizza or sfincione is made with a thick, spongy dough. This mixture of flour, water, yeast, and olive oil is left to rise and then pressed into a well-oiled square baking pan. The crust is 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, the same kind of spongy dough is pressed into a well-oiled square baking pan but topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh.