What is Sicilian Pizza?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Many people have learned to call any deep dish pizza, particularly with a rectangular shape, Sicilian pizza. But this is a misnomer. Much pizza that meets this description is actually a form of American pizza that is more clearly called Sicilian-style pizza. You can distinguish the real thing by knowing something of its history and characteristics.

Sicilian pizza, like this sfincione palermitano, are typically baked on sheets and topped with leftovers, as opposed to an American pizza slathered with sauce and cheese.
Sicilian pizza, like this sfincione palermitano, are typically baked on sheets and topped with leftovers, as opposed to an American pizza slathered with sauce and cheese.

Sicilian pizza is perhaps better thought of as bread or focaccia than as pizza, if your reference for pizza is American pizza like the type you can get from most restaurants. That is, if you think of pizza as slathered in sauce, coated in a thick layer of cheese, and loaded with copious goodies on top, this is a very different concept.

Pizza Margherita is loaded with mozzerella cheese and fresh tomatoes.
Pizza Margherita is loaded with mozzerella cheese and fresh tomatoes.

Like focaccia, Sicilian pizza — known as Sfincione or Sfinciuni in Sicilian — is a thick bread, baked on a sheet, not in a deep-dish pan, and topped with a sprinkling of leftovers, rather than coated thickly with anything. Sfincione means “thick sponge,” and though the origins of this foodstuff are lost in history, by the mid-19th century, it was a staple in western Sicily, sold by sfinciunaros. Nevertheless, because the tomato did not reach Sicily from the New World until the 16th century, we can be sure that the version with tomatoes didn’t precede that date.

Sicilian pizzas are made using a pizza pan.
Sicilian pizzas are made using a pizza pan.

Comparing the crust of a typical Sicilian pizza recipe with typical American thin crust pizza recipe, we find several differences. First, a single American thin crust pizza recipe has about one third as much yeast. Second, it only has half the water and half the flour. Third, while the American pizza recipes likely only calls for one rise, the Sicilian crust calls for two.

A vegetarian Sicilian-style pizza may be topped with fresh tomatoes, onions and herbs.
A vegetarian Sicilian-style pizza may be topped with fresh tomatoes, onions and herbs.

Though both American and Sicilian pizza are made on a pizza pan, not a deep dish, the Sicilian may be made in a rectangular pan. The amount of topping is much less than on an American pizza. In addition, fewer ingredients are typically used; the standards include bits of tomato, onions, anchovy, a few herbs, and a strong cheese like the Sicilian cheeses caciocavallo or pecorino. Though Parmesan from northern Italy is sometimes used, the cheese is usually different from the mild mozzarella generally found on American pizza. The Sicilian variety is a distinct type of pizza, significantly different from American.

The tomato did not reach Sicily from the New World until the 16th century.
The tomato did not reach Sicily from the New World until the 16th century.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments

anon334610

We have something here in Utica, NY that is similar, but we refer to it as tomato pie. It is served either cold or at room temp with just tomato sauce and grated pecorino and then there is "upside down" pizza. It has the same crust, but mozzarella first, then sauce, then grated pecorino.

anon267981

I think sicilian pizzas would be really nice, judging by this. Unlike the big slathered pizzas you can buy!

anon157107

growing up in chicago in the late 50's and 60's the bakeries in my neighborhood made the big square pan pizzas with very little sauce and grated cheese. my grandma was from cianciana, sicily, and she made it similar but no sauce -- just olive oil, a little onion and fresh basil. The bread like crust was so fluffy and light, i never tasted any dough like my grandma's.

anon105766

As a young boy in Erie, Pa.,in the 50's/60's we had a lot of us Italians on the west side of town. I remember the square pan pizza and they used tomato paste instead of just sauce. The best I have ever had. When visiting back home that used to be our first stop before visiting the relatives.

anon78468

Hey you rookies, you can find the "old childhood" sicilian pizza you remember all over New York! They call it "upside down sicilian."

anon71578

I agree. But there are many italian pizzerias in new york. They are american style but certainly not pizz hut and dominoes etc. that's nasty and not even pizza. I don't know what that is.

But pizzerias do have the sicilian with just sauce and grated romano cheese and that's it. It's awesome. good pizza is hard to find. But in ny it's easy to find. Go where there are italians and you can find awesome pizza.

anon66370

Growing up in Brooklyn, we called the square Sicilian pie without mozzarella, Sfuncione. When the pizza had mozzarella it was called Sicilian or square. My grandmother would make a version of the sfuncione at home; it had cooked onions and anchovies on it.

Anon50804: your post brought me right back to my youth in Brooklyn, where you can still get the best tasting pizza anywhere!

anon50804

I agree with this article about Sicilian pizza. When I was growing up in Brooklyn in the late 60s and early 70s, Sicilian pizza did not have any mozzarella. It was square, and we called it that when we ordered a slice. It had tomatoes, some oregano and some grated cheese. It was excellent. Now you can't really find that way anymore. As pizza became more and more American which meant more and more mozzeralla, the Sicilian pie of my youth has become a pizza that you can't recognize.

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