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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 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.
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.
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.
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.