One of the true joys of travelling is getting a real taste for a place, and for me the challenge is always how to recreate that at home. I was back in New Zealand just two days before I was in the kitchen trying to see if I could recreate these three dishes we enjoyed regularly in Sicily and often in contrasting locations, be it a white table clothed restaurant or on the street in a bustling market. For me that was one of the pleasures of Sicilian food, the complete lack of snobbery, instead relishing history and tradition and the ability to make something delicious out of very simple ingredients.
I can probably sum sfincione up as love at first bite. On our first night in Palermo, we had dinner in a private palazzo that had been lovingly restored. Here, in what was the original kitchen, we were introduced to the world of Sicilian wines, but I could have been a little distracted after biting into the soft pillowy sfincione.
I had read about sfincione, which had been described as Sicilian pizza or a focaccia-like bread with thick tomato topping, neither of which descriptions does justice to this dish. The specimen we devoured on that first night was by far the best, with its sponge-like texture, crispy bottom, and perfectly balanced tomato topping.
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast
1½ cups luke warm water
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cups high grade flour
2–4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 tsp dried oregano or 2 sprigs fresh oregano
1 400g tin of cherry tomatoes (you can use chopped but I like the sweetness of the cherry ones)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
¼ cup water
In a large bowl mix together the sugar, salt, yeast, and water. Allow to sit for five minutes before mixing in 2 tbsp. of the olive oil and flour. Once thoroughly mixed, cover the bowl and place in the fridge for 24–48 hours.
Make the tomato sauce ahead of time and chill so it is ready when the bread has fermented. Heat the olive oil in a medium sized pot and sauté the onion, garlic and oregano over a low heat. When the onions are soft add the tinned tomatoes, salt, and sugar. Use the ¼ cup of water to swish out the remains in the tomato tin and add this in. Stir and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Check and adjust the seasoning to taste before pureeing to thick sauce.
Coat the bottom of a 30cm x 20cm cm baking dish with the remaining olive oil. Spread the dough into the pan and allow it to rise again in a warm place for around an hour.
Place a pizza stone in your oven and turn it up as high as it goes.
Carefully spread the tomato sauce on top.
Turn the oven down to 230°C and place the pan on the pizza stone to bake for 30–35 minutes.