Old School Sicilian Pizza

2009 August: Old SchoolWhat makes a Sicilian pizza a Sicilian pizza? In two words: shape and thickness. A true Sicilian pizza is rectangular. A true Sicilian pizza has a crust that is almost a half-inch thick. How do I know this? I know this because next door to my boyhood home in upstate New York there was an Italian bakery that made Sicilian pizza. The bakery made great Italian bread, but it also made incredibly delicious Sicilian pizza. The same dough used to make the Italian bread was used to make the pizza. The dough was pressed into a full-sheet rectangular pan and smeared (smeared, not drowned) with a puree of tomatoes. Next came a light shower of dried oregano followed by a medium shower of grated Romano cheese. And just before going into the oven, a drizzle of olive oil was added to the surface. The remembrance of that good pizza past has never left me.

In the early 1900s small Italian bakeries were commonplace in many northeastern states and across the Midwest. Bread was the principal product of these bakeries, but pizza was a close second. So I also know Sicilian pizza as “Italian Bakery Pizza.” In Palermo, Italy, it is called sfi nciuni. In Chicago, where I now live, there is a bakery that comes real close to the one I just described. D’Amato’s Bakery is no more than 10 feet wide in the shop part (the back of the bakery with its coal-fired oven is five times as big as the front), where loaves of freshly baked bread are stacked like cord wood.

On the right side of the shop is a display case. The bottom part of the case is filled with homemade Italian cookies. The top part of the case holds three full sheet pans of pizza. Sicilian pizza. Thick, bread-y crust, light tomato sauce, oregano, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. You have two choices: cheese or sausage. That’s it. The pizza is cut into squares and sold by the piece (though people throwing a party will buy a whole pan or two). When I need a boyhood pizza fix, I head for D’Amato’s Bakery.

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If you like the idea of adding a Sicilian pizza to your offerings, here is how I suggest you go about it. I would only get into the full-sheet size if you are doing catering. Also, going full sheet depends on the style and size of your oven. Pan sizes: a full sheet pan measures 18 inches x 26 inches across the top. A half-size measures 18 inches x 13 inches. A quarter-size pan measures 13 inches x 9 inches. Because the sides of the pans slope, deduct ¼-inch for the true bottom dimensions. I would start with a half-sheet pan or even a quarter-sheet pan (the quartersize pan would be ideal for delivery). From those two sizes I can cut the pizza into squares and sell by the slice or sell the whole blooming pan. I can make Sicilian pizza in just about any style of oven — conveyor, deck, rotating. The exception would be a woodfired oven (the extended baking time, because of the thickness of the crust, makes it nearly impossible to use a wood-fired oven).

Here are the basics for a half-size pan. First, let’s examine the dough. Regardless of whether you sell a deepdish (a.k.a. pan) pizza now, you are pretty well set. The only requirement now is to think thick. Think of it this way: The finished thickness, after baking, of a Sicilian pizza is about the same as that for focaccia. I want the crust of my Sicilian pizza to be ½-inch thick after it is fully baked. Can you go with a crust that is less than ½-inch thick and still call it Sicilian? Yes, but don’t push it too far. How much dough will you need for a half-size pan? About 30 to 32 ounces.

When it comes to the tomatoes: I use an all-purpose ground tomato right out of the can. You will need about two cups. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of oregano over the tomatoes. Now use grated Romano. You will need ¾ cup of it. To finish, drizzle about ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil over the tomatoes and cheese. Bake 15-20 minutes at 450 F. (Bake time will vary relative to oven type and size). 

Dough Recipe
Yield: one half-sheet pan Sicilian pizza

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1¼ cups warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup olive oil
4 cups low protein fl our (11-12 percent)

In a mixing bowl, combine the yeast, water, sugar, salt and oil. Whisk to combine. With the mixer running, add the fl our one cup at a time. Mix at medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes (add a little more fl our if the dough is too wet). The dough should be soft, yet not sticky.

Give the dough one full rise of about two hours (or overnight in the cooler). Brush a half-sheet pan with olive oil. Press the dough across the bottom of the pan. Now fl ip the dough once to get some of the oil onto the top of the dough.

Now press the dough completely across the bottom of the pan and into the raised edge of the pan. The dough should be about 1/8-inch thick at this point. Cover the pan completely with a damp cloth. Let rise for up to an hour in the pan. Push the dough once more into the bottom and sides of the pan.

(Now add toppings, such as tomatoes, herbs, basil and oregano if you choose and grated Romano.) Bake.

Variation: after the dough has had a second rise, lay slices of mozzarella over the dough to cover. Now add the tomatoes and the herbs (you can replace the dried herbs with a chiffonade of fresh basil). Sprinkle (liberally) grated Romano over the tomatoes. Drizzle some olive oil over the cheese and tomatoes. Bake. If you are using a deck oven, you can slide the pizza out of the pan halfway through the bake time, and finish it on the stone for a crispier crust.

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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