2010 December: Perfect Pies

2010 December: Perfect PiesWhat makes a Sicilian pizza a Sicilian pizza? In two words: shape and thickness. A true Sicilian pizza is rectangular and has a crust that is a little less than a half-inch thick.

How do 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 over the surface. The remembrance of that good pizza past has never left me. So I also know Sicilian pizza as Italian Bakery Pizza. In Palermo, Italy, it is called sfi nciuni. 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 by 26 inches across the top. A half-size measures 18 inches by 13 inches. A quarter-size pan measures 13 inches x 9 inches. Because the sides of the pans slope, deduct 1⁄4-inch for the true bottom dimensions.

I would start with a half sheet pan or even a quarter sheet pan (the quarter-size 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, be it conveyor, deck or rotating. The exception would be a wood-fired 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: 

The dough. If you sell a deep-dish (a.k.a. pan) pizza now, or if you are using a low-protein fl our for your dough, you are pretty well set to go. The only requirement now is to think thick. OK, think of it this way: after baking, the finished thickness of a Sicilian pizza is about the same as that for focaccia. I want the crust of my Sicilian pizza to be 1⁄2-inch thick after it is fully baked. Can you go with a crust that is less than 1⁄2-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 30-32 ounces. 
The tomatoes: I use an all-purpose ground tomato right out of the can. You will need about 2 cups of tomatoes. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon oregano over the tomatoes.  The cheese. I use is grated Romano. Go with 3⁄4 cup of it, and that will get the job done just fine. 
To finish: drizzle about 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil over the tomatoes and cheese. 
Bake time: Bake for 15-20 minutes at 450 F. (Bear in mind that bake time will vary relative to oven type and size).

Dough Recipe

Yield: one half-sheet pan Sicilian pizza

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

In the mixing bowl, combine the yeast, water, sugar, salt and oil. Whisk to combine. With the mixer running, add the fl our 1 cup at a time. Mix at medium speed for 4-5 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 2 hours (or overnight in the cooler). Brush a half-sheet pan with olive oil. Press the dough across the bottom of the pan. Now flip 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 the 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. You can slide the pizza out of the pan half-way through the bake time, and finish it off 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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