I love, love, love traditions, customs, rituals and beliefs! December 8 is the celebration of the Immaculate Conception. I recently learned that in Sicily it is customary to bake a sfinciuni, a type of pizza made with simple ingredients, flour, yeast, onions, anchovies, olive oil and crumbs of leftover bread to honor the Madonna at Advent.
Amore, amore…I love pizza and how excited I was to have a new tradition to follow. It was quite possible that my mom served us pizza after attending mass on this day as we had pizza so often I cannot confirm this was a true custom in our home or not. I’ve made Friday pizza night a tradition for many years using the my favorite pizza dough recipe I posted last year. This past year though I’ve become hooked on Peter Reinhart’s Napoletana Pizza Dough recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and I can honestly say, I’ve only gone back to my old pizza dough recipe just a few times.
The taste and texture of this dough is spot on, thin, light and crisp. He has a very lengthy method for preparing the dough, definitely worth reading through to get a good understanding of the process, but honestly, I’ve made this dough so many times, I just do it on automatic pilot. It’s really that easy. And, I can make one batch that lasts me for one month of Friday night pizzas.
Of course, that’s making only one pizza. When my daughter is home or friends are over, we are making two or more, topping with favorite combinations, baking or grilling them.
Napoletana Pizza Dough
4 1/2 cups (20.25 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour, chilled *
4 teaspoons vital wheat gluten *
1 tablespoon sugar
1 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups water, ice cold
In a large bowl of a stand up mixer with a dough hook (or by hand in a large bowl), combine the flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast. Add in the oil and cold water and stir to mix well using low speed on the stand up mixer or with a spoon. Continue to mix on medium speed (2 on my KitchenAid Mixer) for about 5-7 minutes or until the dough is smooth and clearing the sides of the bowl. The dough will feel slightly sticky.
Drop the dough onto a lightly floured board or counter and form into a large oval. Cut the dough into 4 sections. Roll each one into a ball. With lightly oiled hands, coat each ball with the oil and place each into a ziplock bag. If using within 3 days, place in the refrigerator. If freezing, place the dough balls into ziplock bags and freeze up to 3 months. (Remove from the freezer to the refrigerator the day before making pizza.)
When you’re ready to make the pizza, remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured board and loosely cover with a tower or plastic wrap. Allow to rest about 2 hours before. I have been able to successfully make pizza after 1 hour at room temp.
About 30 minutes before baking the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Gently form the dough ball into shape with your fingertips, then by drapping it over your fist to slowly stretch. The dough is very soft so a gentle touch is needed not to stretch it too thin. Also try not to use a rolling pin to flatten the dough as I feel it flattens out the natural airy pockets in the dough. Place the formed dough onto a pizza peel or pan. Use toppings sparingly, less is always best. Makes 4 pizza crusts.
For this Sicilian pizza to honor la Madonna, I layered caramelized onions with anchovies, mozzarella cheese and bread crumbs.
For the caramelized onions, thinly slice 1 large onion. Heat a large skillet with olive oil. Gently and slowly saute the onions with salt, freshly ground pepper and dried oregano until golden and caramelized. If you’re brave, drop in 2-3 anchovies and allow to cook and melt into the onions. Allow to cool before topping the pizza.
For the bread crumbs, finely process day old rustic bread or baguette into crumbs. Combine 1/2 cup bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 tablespoon chopped scallions, 1 clove garlic minced, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese. Crushed red pepper is optional and of course, purchased bread crumbs can be used. I make a large quantity and freeze the mixture so its ready to go when I am!
Bake for 13-15 minutes depending on the heat of your oven. Transfer to a cutting board and allow to rest for about 3 minutes.
* You can substitute high-gluten bread flour, in the same quantity (4 1/2 cups) and not use the vital wheat gluten.