Sicilian Pizza

Ah, the joys of Sicilian pizza. I was eating this style of pizza even before I was eye-level with the top of the table in my Mother’s kitchen, so I do know of what I write and eat.

What exactly is Sicilian pizza? Before I answer that question, keep in mind that in certain parts of the country (New York City, especially), this style of pizza also goes by the name of Grandma’s Pizza, or Nonna’s Pizza. In one of my pizza cookbooks, “The Ultimate Pizza,” I use the words “Italian Bakery” as an identifier, because it was that style of pizza that was made in the Italian bakery next door to where I grew up (hence, my early connection with this style of pizza).

Another facet to this jewel of a pizza is that many of the Italian immigrants (my father was part of that wave) that came to this country at the turn of the 20th century started their own business. Italian bakeries flourished in New York City. An offshoot of the business of selling bread was making and selling pizza (you got the dough, you can make a pizza). And those pizzas were not round, but square or rectangular.

To carry the Italian bakery idea one step further, there is an Italian bakery here in Chicago, D’Amato’s on West Grand Avenue, that makes pizza in the Sicilian style. Here, the pizza comes out of the oven in full sheet pan size. You can buy it by the slice, or you can buy the whole pan. (However, the story does not end there. In fact, I noted recently that an upscale pizza chain is using the term “Sicilian Pizza,” and the pizza is round and has a very thin crust. I believe that we will all be seeing the word “Sicilian” tossed around a lot in the pizza business in the year ahead.)

What is Sicilian pizza? First of all it is not round; it comes in a square or rectangle. OK, so Sicilian pizza has a different shape. What else? The crust is thicker and breadier than, say, thin-crust pizza. The breadier connection has to do with the fact that the dough used to make Italian bread was also used to make pizza.

What else? As a rule, a Sicilian pizza does not suffer under a load of toppings. In fact, the original concept of an Italian Bakery (Sicilian) pizza was simply this: thick crust, tomatoes, basil, oregano, grated Romano cheese. Mozzarella? No, it was not done. Even today, D’Amato’s Bakery does it the way I just described. But in a concession to the times, it does offer its pizza with sausage.

Also, the tomatoes used for a Sicilian pizza are combined into a puree, or all-purpose ground. The herbs –– basil and oregano –– are dried, not fresh. The idea behind using grated Romano instead of Parmesan was that Romano was less expensive, but there is more to this than meets the dollar signs –– using Romano, which is a sharper-tasting cheese than Parmesan, you get a pizza that has greater depth of flavor. And I have always enjoyed the beautiful taste connection that takes place when Romano cheese meets sweet tomatoes. So, as you can see, a Sicilian pizza is as simple as the natives of Sicily are complex.

Unless you have already done so, try thinking Sicilian. Keep in mind that a “pie” does not always have to be round. Pies that are squared just might open your customers’ eyes and keep your name on their lips.

Here is a basic dough formula for making Sicilian pizza. Keep in mind that a good way to go is to have the dough balls take one rise in the cooler overnight, then, the next day, after the dough is pressed into the pan, give it another rise for about two hours before topping and baking.

Sicilian-Style Pizza Dough

Yield: 37-38 pounds of dough

3 ounces active dry yeast 

4 ounces sugar

12 to 13 pounds water

12 ounces vegetable oil

4 ounces salt

25 pounds flour: Use a low-protein flour (11 to 12 percent) 

In the mixing bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and 12 pounds of water. Whisk to combine. Add the vegetable oil and salt. Whisk to combine

With the mixer running at speed 2, gradually add the flour. Add additional water as needed to bring the dough mass together. Mix for 10 minutes at speed No. 2., until the sides of the mixing bowl are clean and the dough is soft and pliable.

Scale and balls as needed (if using a half sheet pan or a full sheet pan)

Proof overnight, covered, in the cooler. Remove the dough balls as least 2 hours before you plan your first bake of the day.

Cook’s Note: I like to use a vegetable oil, olive oil blend to enhance the texture and the flavor of the dough.

Some tips:

• Glaze the sheet pan (half or full) with olive oil.

• Press the dough (the dough that you took out of the cooler, as noted in the above recipe) into the pan, pushing it up against the sides of the pan to form a cuff or frame.

• Next, brush olive oil over the dough.

• I will make up as many pans as I need, and slide each pan into my rolling bakery rack. If you have a cover for the rack, it is a good idea to use it, especially if your shop is hot.

• I like to use a quality all-purpose tomato puree, or ground tomatoes.

• Spread the tomatoes, lightly, do not swamp the dough with the tomatoes that have some pulp.

• Sprinkle on the basil and oregano. Add cheeses sparingly (grated Romano, shredded mozzarella) and other toppings, if used.

• Bake as needed.

The overall idea behind a Sicilian pizza is to give the finished product a rustic, homemade look. Sometimes I use sliced black olives and anchovies. Other times, I will use capers along with the olives. And last but not least, Sicilian pizza works great if you selling slices.