Sicilian Pizza, 7 Fun Facts from Sicily

What is Sicilian pizza? Meet Sfincione, a focaccia style pizza that inspired many others including Grandma pie. Fun facts, plus a map of the best Sicilian pizza in Sicily.
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Can we talk for a minute about how amazing Sicilian pizza is! Not American Grandma pie or deep dish pizza, but authentic made and eaten in Sicily pizza. We’re talking about Sfincione, the street food in Sicily.

This Sicilian pizza article includes information about the history of Sfincione, what makes Sicilian pizza different, 15 award winning places to eat the best Sicilian pizza in Sicily, Sicilian pizza fun facts and our personal story of what it’s like to eat pizza in Sicily.

On an extensive road trip through Sicily, Paolo and I ate a lot, and I do mean a lot, of pizza. Consequently, I am obsessed.

Want to know why? Two reasons.

First, Sfincione is uncomplicated and yet scrumptiously satisfying. Furthermore, unlike Neapolitan pizza, Sicilian pizza is much easier to make at home because it does not require a pizza oven.

Sicilian Pizza

Sfincione Sicilian Pizza
Sfincione Sicilian Pizza

So what is Sicilian Pizza? Fundamentally, Sicilian pizza is a type of pizza that originated in Sicily. More accurately, several styles of pizzas made in Sicily. The original and most influential among them is Sfincione. A focaccia-style street food sold by the slice in Sicily.

Similar to Sicily, in America, Sicilian pizza refers to several types of pizza like Grandma pie and Detroit-Style pizza. Both of which take inspiration from Sfincione.

While neither of these is actually Sicilian pizza, what they all have in common is a tall thick crust and a square shape that originated in Sicily.

However, that is where the similarities stop.

What Makes Sicilian Pizza Different?

Three main things make Sicilian pizza unique from other pizza styles.

Flour is the first.

When it comes to American-style Grandma pie, most recipes call for All-purpose flour. While in Sicily, recipes call for 00 Flour or Semolina made from hard durum wheat. The result is a more earthy, flavorful dough.

The second thing that makes Sicilian pizza different from both Grandma pie and Neapolitan pizza is the leavening. Sicilian pizza is sauced before leavening is complete. This allows the dough to soak up some of the sauce itself.

Finally, believe it or not, Mozzarella is not a traditional Sicilian cheese. Can you guess what types of cheeses are traditional? See our seven fun facts below for the answer.

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Seven Sicilian Pizza Fun Facts

While there are several types of pizza in Sicily, our seven fun facts focus on the most influential one, Sfincione as featured in the curated video below.

Sicilian Pizza Video
Video: Focaccia or Pizza? Sfincione

1. Sfincione Means “Large Sponge”

Sold in rectangular slices across Sicily, it’s easy to see where this Sicilian street food gets its name.

In the Sicilian dialect, Sficione means “large sponge.”

Sficione has a rustic double-leavened, focaccia-style dough that is tall, soft, thick, and well… sponge-like. Perfect for holding toppings till you’re hungry.

2. The Difference is in the Dough!

What makes Sicilian pizza different from other Italian pizza styles? Primarily the double-leaven dough. Secondarily before the second leavening the dough gets a thick layer of sauce. This double-leavened dough gets deliciously tall and soaks up sauce just like a sponge.

3. Nuns Originally Made Sfincione to Feed the Poor

Sicilian-style pizza arose from a need to feed the poor in Sicily. During the 17th century, nuns from a monastery in San Vito added savory yet inexpensive ingredients like béchamel, chicken offal, and peas to simple focaccia bread for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Hence the tradition of Sficione or Silician pizza was born.

4. Before Panettone There was Sfincione

Panettone is a sweet bread with candied fruit. Once Italy unified in 1861, Panettone became a national symbol at Christmas.

What’s funny is that in Sicily, Sfincione was the go-to for Christmas celebrations.

It’s hard to imagine swapping something so savory for something so sweet. Perhaps that’s why bakeries across Sicily still sell so much Sficione in December.

5. Mozzarella is Not a Traditional on Sicilian Pizza

Remember those nuns who made Sfincione for the poor? Their recipe influenced the meals of Prince Giuseppe Branciforte di Butera in 1650. Only the aristocratic version of Sfincione had rich ingredients from the town of Bagheria.

Anchovies, fresh tuma cheese, grated pecorino cheese, breadcrumbs, and extra-virgin olive oil. A recipe that became known as Bagherese Sfincione.

Bagherese Sfincione
Bagherese Sfincione at Anica Ristorante & Pizza Gourmet in Palermo, Sicily

After World War II, the price of tomatoes dropped. Only then did they become a common ingredient in Sicily. 

When Sfincione made its way from Bagheria to Palermo, the sauce had turned red with tomatoes. 

Sfincione Palermitano with Caciocavallo cheese was born.

Sfincione Palermitano pizza toppings
Sfincione Palermitano at Anica Ristorante & Pizza Gourmet in Palermo, Sicily

In other words, the two most traditional Sicilian pizzas do not have mozzarella cheese! Still, they are absolutely delicious and a must-try when in Sicily.

6. Sicilian Pizza is the Street Food of Sicily

Nearly every bakery, pizzeria, and rotisserie across Sicily sell Sfincione. Can you imagine walking through Palermo and catching the scent of freshly baked pizza at every turn? How could you ever resist? So it’s not hard to see why Sfincione is the street food of Sicily.

7. Sfincione is Not the Only Type of Pizza in Sicily

Not only are there different recipes and versions for Sfincione across Sicily, but there are different types of pizza in the hearts of Sicilians.

Scacciata is a thin, crunchy Sicilian flatbread stuffed with local meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Like Sfincione, Scacciata is a popular street food in Catania, Sicily.

Scacciata Sicilian Pizza Scacciata
Scacciata we enjoyed outside of Catania, Sicily

It’s an exciting time to try pizza in Sicily right now! Several Sicilian pizzerias are turning heads in Italy with innovative twists on Neapolitan pizza. Imagine a taller Sfincione dough meeting the classic round Neapolitan-style pizza, and you get the idea.

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Best Sicilian Pizza

If you find yourself craving Sficione so much you find yourself in Sicily as we did, here’s a map to some of the best Sicilian pizza in Sicily! Each pizzeria included below is an award-winning pick by Gambero Rosso.

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My First Sficione in Sicily

I had my first slice of Sficione in the small coastal town of Scopello, Sicily.

Having been distracted by stunning sea views, we arrived in Scopello later than planned. Since the promise of a hike through the Zingaro Nature Reserve lie ahead, we had to find something for lunch.

Because it was late, all the restaurants in town were closed. Bar La Palma was our only option.

Having stopped in bars across Italy countless times on road trips, we thought we’d just find sandwiches. Instead we found was Sficione!

Brandy Shearer Eating Sfincione in Scopello, Sicily
Brandy Shearer Eating Sfincione in Scopello, Sicily

Snapping up two sliced, we grabbed two Messinas, and made our way to a table outside.

That first bite was unforgettable. A spongy dough soaked in a savory, bright sauces of tomato, Sicilian olive oil, and oregano. I was in heaven. How could something so humble be so satisfying?

Sitting back to enjoy my last few bites, I finally noticed we were among a crowd of local workers and one persistent cat. While we had shooed the cat away from our pizza multiple times, the workers took turns feeding it small bits of their own.

That’s one lucky cat I thought. For it and the local workers, this was likely an everyday lunch. Just a slice Sfincione, a beer, and gorgeous views all around.

In Summary

Eating pizza in Italy is a very difference experience than eating pizza in America.

I love sharing the story of my first slice of Sfincione in Sicily because to me it sums up Sicilian pizza. Sicilian pizza can be many things but at it’s core it’s Sfincione. Uncomplicated. Satisfying. Affordable. Street foorDelicious. Exactly what the best street foods all over the world are about.

References

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