Sfincione (loosely translated as “thick sponge”) is the original, authentic version of Sicilian pizza from Palermo. It is usually sold in bakeries, or panificios. It is a fluffy, spongy bread (similar to focaccia) topped with a sauce made from tomatoes, onions, herbs, and anchovies, which is then covered with bread crumbs and an optional grating of hard cheese (caciocavallo) that is baked in a square tray. The “American” version that evolved in New York, what has become known as “Sicilian-Style” has the same thicker, square base, but it is usually topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Traditional sfincione does not use mozzarella because most of the milk produced in Sicily comes from sheep and goats, not cows. Sfincione is enjoyed throughout the year, but particularly on the eve of the December 7th, before the Immaculate Conception Day, Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and Good Friday. In warmer months it is typically served at room temperature.
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons to 1 cup + 2 tablespoons lukewarm water • (Use the lesser amount in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate), and somewhere in between the rest of the year)
1 loaf Italian-style bread, cut into 1/2-inch slices
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces caciocavallo cheese, or pecorino romano, grated on the large holes of a box grater
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, finely diced (about 2 1/2 cups total)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 anchovy filets, finely chopped
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand or in a food mill
Kosher salt To Assemble:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 ounces caciocavallo cheese, grated on the large holes of a box grater
Make the Dough: Add flour, salt, and yeast to a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add olive oil and water and stir with a wooden spoon until no dry flour remains. Dough will be quite wet. Do not add more flour. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise until it’s very puffy, about 90 minutes (or, place in refrigerator at least 12 hours and up to 3 days.) While dough ferments, make the breadcrumbs and sauce (both can be made ahead).
Make the Breadcrumbs: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 300°F. Spread bread slices on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until completely dry, about 30 minutes. Break up bread into rough pieces with your hands then transfer to a food processor. Add olive oil and cheese and process into a fine powder. You should have about 3 cups of crumbs. Set-aside until ready to use. Breadcrumbs can be stored in a sealed container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Make the Sauce: Heat olive oil and onions in a large straight-sided sauté pan over medium high heat until sizzling. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until onions are deep golden brown, about 20 minutes total. Add oregano, red pepper flakes, and anchovies and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer then reduce to lowest possible heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until deep red, rich, and thick, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and set aside. Sauce can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for up to one week.
Bake: place a baking stone directly on the bottom of your oven and preheat the oven to 450°F. Pour half of oil in the bottom of a rimmed aluminum baking sheet (a 13" x 18" half sheet pan is perfect) tilting the pan so the oil spreads out a bit. Gently deflate the risen dough, and stretch it into an oval in your hands. Plop the oval onto the baking sheet, and press it towards the edges. When it starts to fight back, walk away for 15 minutes. When you return, you should be able to press it to the edges and nearly into the corners. If you can't, give it another short rest, and try again. You want the dough to cover as much of the pan's bottom as possible. Cover the dough, and let it rise till puffy, about 90 minutes
Assemble: Uncover the dough and carefully spread a generous layer of sauce to within 1/4-inch of the edges of the dough, taking care not to deflate the dough excessively (You may not need all the sauce). The sauce will spread better if it's allowed to come to room temperature first. Add a layer of grated cheese. Top the entire top surface with the cheesy bread crumbs (you may not need all the crumbs). Drizzle with more olive oil. Bake directly on the stone until top is golden brown and bottom is crisp and bubbly when you peek with a metal spatula, about 25 minutes total, rotating once half way through cooking.
Remove from the pan using a thin metal spatula and transfer to a cutting board. Serve immediately.