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Playing Sfincione = Sicilian Pizza Made With a Focaccia-Like Dough

Rach has been a huge Anna Gass fan since she discovered her first book, Heirloom Kitchen (Harper Design, 2019), a collection of stories and family recipes from women who immigrated to the United States. Anna is now working on her next book, about Italian snack foods, which will include this recipe for sfincione, Sicilian pizza. 

"The markets of Palermo, Sicily are a wonderment of sight, sound and delicious smells. Street vendors shouting, people lined up for an inexpensive, yet incredibly filling and delicious mid-morning snack. Fish, spices, jars of condiments and cookies for sale, and vendors frying various snacks or baking delicacies lined up as far as the eye can see.   

One of the most famous local treats is sfincione. Sfincione is to Palermo what pizza is to Naples—a supple focaccia-like dough piled with an oniony sauce and crunchy breadcrumb topping. Hidden between the sauce and dough is a layer of cheese. Hence, the pizza toppings are reversed, but it all works so well. 

Sfincione can be found in bakeries, pizzerias and rosticcerias and is even sold hot in supermarkets. This snack is eaten in the morning, at noon and even as a treat on the way home from work." —Anna 

Pro Tip from Anna: My "brodo di mamma" tomato sauce recipe from Heirloom Kitchen starts with an infused olive oil and lots of crushed tomatoes. After an hour of simmering on the stove, it is perfect for pasta, pizza or any of your Italian red sauce needs. If you prefer, you can substitute three cups of store-bought tomato puree in the "Sauce" recipe below. 

For two wonderful recipes from Anna's cookbook, Heirloom Kitchen, check out this Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)—American Style and Poppy Seed Cake with Sour Cream Frosting


For the "Brodo di Mamma" Tomato Sauce (makes 8 cups; see Tip):
  • ½ cup EVOO
  • 10 basil leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Two 32-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Dough:
  • ½ cup milk, slightly warmed to 110°F
  • One ¼-ounce packet active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 6 cups bread flour
  • ¼ cup "00" flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons EVOO
For the Cheesy Breadcrumbs:
  • 8 slices white bread, ends preferable
  • 2 tablespoons EVOO
  • ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons EVOO
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 anchovy fillets (optional)
  • 3 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3 cups Brodo di Mamma (above) or tomato puree
To Assemble:
  • ¼ cup EVOO, plus 3 tablespoons for drizzling
  • 12 thin slices provolone or mozzarella cheese (about ½ pound)
  • Sauce (above)
  • 2 cups Cheesy Breadcrumbs (above)


Serves: 8 to 10


For the brodo di mamma, in a small pan, combine EVOO, basil, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes (if using; add if you like a spicy brodo) and heat over low heat to allow the aromatics to "steep" into the olive oil, which will become fragrant and rich with flavor. After 10 to 15 minutes, remove from heat and discard the basil and garlic.  

In a large saucepan, add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper and 2 cups water. Pour the infused olive oil into the pan and stir. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and then immediately reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 hour. The brodo is now ready to use. 

While the brodo cooks, make the dough. In a small bowl, combine milk, yeast and sugar and allow the yeast to bloom, about 5 minutes. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the bread flour, 00 flour and salt. Mix on low speed to combine. While the machine is running, add 2 ½ cups warm water (110°F) and mix until a shaggy dough forms, about 2 minutes.  

Add the bloomed yeast mixture to the bowl and mix on low until combined, about 1 minute. Do not overmix; the batter will be very wet. Empty the dough onto a board dusted with 00 flour and, using a bench scraper, scrape the bowl clean. Carefully fold the dough into a messy ball so you can pick it up. 

Drizzle the EVOO into a large mixing bowl and swirl to coat. Place the ball of dough in the mixing bowl, cover with a tea towel and let sit in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours. 

While the dough proofs, make the breadcrumbs and sauce. 

For the breadcrumbs, preheat oven to 350°F. 

On a baking sheet, lay bread slices in an even layer and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until bread is toasted a deep dark brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.  

Break up the cooled bread, place in a large food processor and pulse into a fine crumb. (A few bigger bits is fine.) Place in a bowl and add cheese, oregano and salt. Mix until completely combined, then set aside and make the sauce. 

For the sauce, in a large skillet, heat EVOO over medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes and anchovy fillets (if using) and move around the pan until they dissolve. Add the onions and salt and stir to coat. Cook the onions for about 8 to 9 minutes, occasionally moving them around the pan to encourage even cooking, until translucent and browning at the edges.

Add tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Add brodo di mamma and increase heat to medium-high. Once the sauce begins to boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let come to room temp. 

To assemble the sfincione, pour the EVOO on a 13 x 18-inch sheet pan and place the proofed dough on top. Begin to press into the dough with all ten fingers, stretching it toward the edges of the pan. Once it begins to resist, loosely cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel. Place the pan in a warm spot and let sit for 15 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 425°F, with a rack in the middle and top third positions.

Uncover the dough and press into it with your fingertips to stretch it to the edges of the pan. The dough should move easily. 

Place the slices of cheese evenly over the dough. Spoon the sauce over the cheese and spread it evenly to the edges. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the sauce to the edges. Drizzle the pizza with EVOO and bake for 10 minutes in the middle of the oven. 

Rotate the pan, place in the top third of the oven and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more until the bottom of the pizza is golden brown and the breadcrumbs are toasted. Enjoy immediately or at room temperature.