I will never forget my first bite into sfincione, from my good friend (and baker) Solina Testagrossa in Ballestrate. Solina shared Her secrets with me that day and the recipe below is my take on the authentic sfincione, or sicilian pizza bread. The pizza in the palermo region is quite rustic, but other versions were made famous by the nuns of San Vito, who produced beautifully thin layers of dough wrapped around meat fillings. It really is fast food, as it can be picked up at bakeries or from small food carts parked on the pavements.
Makes one large rectangle
For the base
– 2 tsp fast action dried yeast
– 2 tsp caster sugar
– 375ml warm water
– 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
– 1 tsp salt
– 500g ’00’ flour semolina, for dusting
For the topping
– 100g cooked, diced pancetta
– 50g grated provolone or caciocavallo cheese
– 40g baby spinach, washed and trimmed
– 400ml classic tomato sauce (page 96)
– 4 tbsp breadcrumbs
– 1 tsp dried oregano
– 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. Stir the yeast, sugar and water together in the warmed bowl of a mixer fitted with the dough hook. Let it stand for 10 minutes. When the yeast is frothy, it’s ready to use. Add the oil and salt and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon just until the dough comes together, adding a little more flour or warm water if necessary.
2. Switch the mixer on to a medium speed and knead for 4–5 minutes, until the dough is soft and smooth. Alternatively, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes.
3. Brush a large bowl for proving the dough with olive oil. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the oiled bowl. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours, until doubled in size.
4. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas 6. Brush a large 20cm x 30cm baking tray with olive oil and dust with semolina.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knock it back and knead for about 3 minutes, then stretch the dough out to fit the baking tray (it should be thicker than a traditional pizza). Scatter over the pancetta, cheese and spinach and then spoon over the tomato sauce, then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and oregano.
6. Bake in the oven for 20–25 minutes, until golden. Drizzle with the olive oil and serve in slices.
Her new cookbook, Bake Like an Italian is packed with sweet and savoury baking recipes, including original ideas for everyday homemade breads, sweet treats for special occasions and small mouthfuls that go perfectly with a delicious cup of coffee.
While travelling in Italy researching this cookbook Catherine discovered that it is the nuns who were the guardians of Italian baking. The convents competed against each other to create the finest breads and pastries to please the priests. Produced on religious holidays and presented as gifts to priests and noble families, these recipes eventually became tradition in homes all over Italy.
Catherine Fulvio is the proprietor of the Ballyknocken House & Cookery School, Co Wicklow and one of Ireland’s top television culinary stars. Her previous books Catherine’s Italian Kitchen, Catherine’s Family Kitchen, Eat Like an Italian and The Weekend Chef were all bestsellers.
Bake Like an Italian is published by Gill Books, and is available to buy on www.gillbooks.ie.