Sunday, December 21, 2008

sfincioni

I think Grandma would be proud that I am picking up her holiday tradition of making sfincioni. Last year I tried it with a phyllo dough. This year I did two versions - one with a french bread dough, one with a pizza dough. All attempts were quite tasty. I think she would say, "Delicious, dear, but it's not sfincioni..."

What is this elusive delicacy, you might ask? There are many versions, but basically it is a Sicilian cheese pie, served at Christmas. Some say it is the ancient precursor of pizza. It has been called pizza rustica. It can be on the sweet or savory side, depending on what fillings you choose. In Palermo, it is actually sold on the street, the square slices looking like what they call "Sicilian pizza" in the States. Some present it like a calzone. Not sfincioni!

In our family version, Grandma used mozzarella, provolone, and small bits of salami as the base for the filling. Sometimes she would add bits of prosciutto or tiny meatballs as a yummy surprise. We all argue about the dough. The consensus is a brioche-type dough, but so far no one has been able to approximate it exactly. She would make it in a cake pan, putting the filling inside and the dough cover on top, with an egg wash to give it a hard, shiny crust. A recipe for pizza rustica that I saved from the New York Times years ago, adds many eggs as the binder, so it can even be quiche-like (that recipe was an open pie, with a lattice crust - also delicious, but not sfincioni!)

The only other person in my family who could make this dish exactly like grandma was UJ (Uncle John.) Sadly, both UJ and Grandma have passed on, so all I can do is continue to try. But it's a tasty problem to solve.

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