Sfincione: Palermo Focaccia

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    one

    12 × 18 inch 30 × 45 cm ) focaccia, 6 to 8 generous servings

Appears in

This focaccia is topped with some of the quintessential ingredients of Sicilian cooking: tomatoes, anchovies, and bread crumbs. In Palermo, sfincione is street food. One of the formerly great temples of casual Palermo food, the Antica Focacceria di San Francesco, also serves it, but I tasted the sfincione there on a recent trip and it had a crust like industrially made white bread and almost nonexistent topping. The experience made me happy that I know how to make my own sfincione. Caciocavallo cheese might be difficult to find. I have substituted Pecorino Romano with excellent results.

Ingredients

Topping

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, about 8 ounces (225 grams), peeled, halved, and thinly sliced from stem to root end
  • 1 (2-ounce/50-gram) can anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained and coarsely chopped
  • cups tomato purée
  • Salt (only a little because of the anchovies and cheese) and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (about 4 ounces/100 grams) coarsely grated caciocavallo cheese, or ½ cup (about 2 ounces/50 grams) finely grated Pecorino Romano
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
  • 1 cup fine, dry bread crumbs

Method

  1. While the crust is rising, prepare the topping. Pour ¼ cup of the olive oil into a 10-inch sauté pan and place over low to medium heat. Add the onion, and cook it slowly until it softens and begins to color lightly. Stir in the anchovies.
  2. Add the tomato purée and simmer the sauce just enough to diminish the raw tomato flavor, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, under-salting slightly. Scrape the sauce onto a plate or glass pie pan and place it in the refrigerator for a few minutes to cool.
  3. When the crust is almost risen, set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 425°F (220°C).
  4. Uncover the crust and use a fingertip to gently dimple it at -inch (4-cm) intervals. Drop spoonfuls of the sauce all over the top of the crust and use a small metal offset spatula to evenly spread a thin layer of the sauce all over the dough.
  5. Sprinkle the sauce with the cheese, and then the oregano, and the bread crumbs, one at a time. Drizzle with the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil.
  6. Bake the sfincione until it is well risen and the topping is dry and beginning to color, about 30 minutes. Turn the pan back to front about halfway through the baking.
  7. Let the sfincione cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then use a wide metal spatula to slide it onto a rack to finish cooling.

Serving

Use a sharp serrated knife or a pizza wheel to cut the sfincione into squares. In Palermo they eat sfincione at any time of day. My favorite way to serve it is cut into 2-inch (5-cm) squares with drinks before dinner—it makes a fine and substantial hors d’oeuvre.

Storage

Keep the sfincione loosely covered with plastic wrap on the day it is baked—if you’re preparing it early in the day for the evening, leave it right on the cooling rack. Wrap and freeze for longer storage. Defrost, reheat at 375°F (190°C) for about 10 minutes, and cool before serving.

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