Gone are the days when I would get an itch to bake something and then bake it that very day. So it had been a long time since I’d made pizza dough from scratch and even longer since I’d sautéed ground chuck with onions and then let it simmer in white wine until the house smelled part-Grandma and part-special occasion. The air had the slightest feel of autumn in it and to basically repeat myself: it felt really good to make something so basic but not quite.
The sficuini was my particular offering to our latest cookbook club gathering—the cookbook being Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Another cookbook club member brought homemade pasta and bolognese to go along with it. Another brought olive oil cake. Someone brought meatballs. Another, poached shrimp. In short: all the food came in shades of beige or brown and it was all delicious.
Sfinciuni (Palermo's Stuffed Pizza) slightly adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 cups flour
tiny pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon salt
extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon for the dough plus more for the bowl and assembly
2 tablespoons whole milk
cornmeal (for assembling)
2 tablespoons bread crumbs (for assembling)
Dissolve the yeast completely in a large bowl by stirring it into 1/4 cup lukewarm water. When dissolved, in 10 minutes or less, add 1 cup flour and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Then, as you continue to stir, add 1/4 cup lukewarm water, a small pinch of sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 2 tablespoons milk. When all the ingredients have been smoothly amalgamated, add 1/4 cup lukewarm water and the remaining 1 cup flour, and mix thoroughly once again, until the dough feels soft, but compact, and no longer sticks to the hands. (You may need to sprinkle a bit more flour on top if yours is sticky.)
Take the dough out of the bowl, and slap it down very hard against the work counter several times, until it is stretched out into a long and narrow shape. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. Pat the kneaded dough into a round shape.
Film the inside of a clean bowl with 1 teaspoon olive oil, put in the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and put the bowl in a protected, warm corner. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in volume, about 3 hours. While the dough is rising you can prepare the conza (filling). [FYI: After my dough was risen, I put it in the refrigerator for the night. In the morning I took it out, let it come to room temp and then rolled it out.]
Conza di San Vito (Meat and Cheese Filling)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sliced onion very thin
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 cup white wine
1/3 cup cooked unsmoked ham, chopped rather coarse
1/2 cup fontina cheese, diced
1/4 cup fresh ricotta
Put the olive oil and onion in a sauce pan and turn on the heat to medium high. Stir occasionally, and cook until the onion becomes colored a deep dark gold. Add the ground beef, salt, and pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork and cook, stirring frequently, until it loses its red color.
Add the wine, turn the heat down a little and continue cooking until all liquid has simmered away. Transfer the content of the pan to a bowl, and set aside to cool.
When cool, add the ham, fontina, and ricotta and toss until evenly combined.
To assemble (FYI: I heavily adapted this part of the recipe since I don't have a baking stone or peel.)
30 minutes before you are ready to bake, put a baking sheet in the oven and pre-heat it to 400F.
Divide the dough in half and place one half of it onto a nicely floured work surface. Set the other half aside for now. Either using a rolling pin or your hands, stretch the dough into a roughly 10-inch-in-diameter oval/circle.
Place a piece of clean parchment down. Sprinkle the paper with cornmeal and then quickly transfer your dough layer right on top of it.
Distribute 1 tablespoon of bread crumbs over the dough and 1 teaspoon olive oil, stopping about 1/2 inch short of the edge. Spread the meat and cheese conza over it, again stopping short of the edge, and top the filling with 1 tablespoon bread crumbs and 2 teaspoons olive oil.
Unwrap the remaining dough, put it on a lightly floured work surface, and roll it or stretch it into a disk that will roughly match your bottom layer. Place it over the stuffing and crimp the edges of the two circles securely together.
Brush the top of the dough with water. Then, with oven mitts, grab your hot baking sheet out of the even. Grab the corner of the parchment paper holding your uncooked stuffed pizza and quickly slide it onto the hot baking sheet and then pop the whole thing into the oven. Bake for 25 minutes. (Mine looked quite pale on top but was completely cooked.) After removing it from the oven, let it settle for 30 minutes. Cut into pie-shaped wedges and serve.