Sicilian pizza is hard to pin down, it actually has two versions, and they are both delicious. To start, we will look at the similarity between the two versions. And then their differences and what makes each style of Sicilian pizza different.
What is Sicilian Style Pizza?
The two versions of Sicilian pizza are the classic Sicilian pizza straight from the island of Sicily and New York Sicilian pizza. Both versions of Sicilian pizza have a spongy crust and are often compared to focaccia, rectangle pizza from your old school cafeteria, or even Detroit pizza.
The crust is thick and airy with an oily bottom. Sicilian pizza is made in a square or rectangular pan, but the pan is not as deep as the traditional pan for a Detroit pizza. Instead, the pan is closer to a baking sheet. From there, the two versions are different.
Classic Sicilian Pizza
This type of Sicilian pizza is known as “sfincione,” which translates to “thick sponge” in Italian, and originated in the city of Palermo on the island of Sicily, you know the one, Sicily is the rock that the boot of Italy is kicking.
It’s a warm Mediterranean city on the water, so there is no surprise that Sicilian cooking uses a lot of fish, especially anchovies. Here in the U.S., anchovies get a bad reputation, but they are common ingredients in sauces and tapenades in Sicilian cooking. A true Sicilian pizza is topped with a tangy tomato sauce that is heavy on onions and anchovies.
Another key difference is the cheese; instead of the traditional creamy mozzarella, Sicilian pizza is topped with caciocavallo cheese. This cheese is a type of stretched curd cheese made in Sicily with either sheep or cow’s milk. The name literally translates to “cheese on horseback” since it is sold with a little rope around it, kind of like a cowboy’s lasso on the top of the cheese.
Sicilian pizzaiolos add cheese to the dough to create a barrier to the sauce and avoid a soggy crust. Lastly, a Sicilian pizza is topped with a breadcrumb mixture, leaving you with a pizza with a golden spongy crust, a crunchy top, and a tangy sauce.
New York Sicilian Pizza
The New York version of Sicilian pizza has the same spongy crust but sticks to the classic creamy mozzarella and simple red marinara sauce that is synonymous with good pizza. If you go into any New York pizzeria and ask for a Sicilian slice, this is what you are going to get.
In New York, depending on the pizzeria, some pizzaiolos will invert the layers and first add the mozzarella and then the sauce and topping. Other pizzaiolos will par-bake the crust first and then add the sauce, cheese, and toppings.
Usually, a New York Sicilian pizza is topped with pepperoni cups, but many pizzerias have changed the topping sot accommodate vegetarians and offer lots of fun veggie combinations.
How to Make Sicilian-Style Pizza
We hope that you get a chance to visit Sicily and New York, but until you do, you can try making homemade Sicilian pizza.
What you need to make homemade Sicilian pizza:
Sicilian Pizza Dough
The dough is very similar to focaccia and is a high-hydration dough, meaning it’s sticky.
- 3 1/2 cups of bread flour (bread flour is high gluten meaning its stretchier, but if you only have all-purpose flour that will work too)
- 1 Tablespoon fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ¾ cups warm water
- 1 cup caciocavallo cheese or provolone
In a bowl, add yeast and warm water, and a pinch of sugar; set aside ten minutes to let it rise. When the yeast mix is ready, you need to mix all of the ingredients together and knead for a couple of minutes. Cover with plastic wrap or a dish towel and let rise until double in size, around 1 to 2 hours.
Uncover on a floured surface and knead for a few more minutes. Take the square pan, coat it with olive oil, and press the dough into the pan. Sprinkle with one cup of caciocavallo cheese or provolone and cover, and let rise again for around 2 hours.
Sicilian Tomato Sauce
You can use your typical tomato sauce with cooked tomatoes. But we prefer the classic Sicilian sauce with that anchovy kick. Even if you think you hate anchovies, you should try it because it’s not fishy, and the tangy onions and acidic tomatoes really balance it all out.
- 1 sliced white onion
- 8 anchovies
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 28-ounce can of tomatoes
- ¾ cup of cubed caciocavallo cheese (provolone or percorino will work too)
- Pinch of salt and pepper
Sauté the onion in olive oil until soft, then add the chopped anchovies and tomatoes. Stir in the cheese. When the cheese has melted, take off the heat and set aside.
- ¼ cup of breadcrumbs
- ½ cup grated Parmesano Reggiano
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano and dried basil each
Take the pizza pan with the stretched-out dough with cheese in it and add the sauce and the breadcrumb mix.
Bake the pizza at 450° F for 25 minutes. Let rest for five minutes before slicing into squares.
Pro Tips for the Best Homemade Sicilian Pizza
- Cover the pan with butter and then olive oil to get a perfectly browned crust.
- If you like the salty briny anchovy flavor but touching the little fish is too much for you, anchovy paste is an easy way to get that flavor without actually having to touch any fish, which for many is a deal breaker.
- When the dough is stretched out on the baking sheet and proofing, add any other ingredients if you are using vegetables or other toppings.
- If you want to add spice to your pizza, try a variation of Pizza A La Calabrese with some Calabrian red chili peppers.
Have you tried Sicilian pizza? Do you prefer classic Sicilian or New York Sicilian?
If you are interested in learning more about Sicilian food, check out The Sicily Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from a Mediterranean Island. We love this cookbook and have tried several recipes from it.