Sicily has a seemingly endless variety of pizza type dishes originating in different places on the island like Scacciata, Rianata Trapanese, Lumera di Noto and the confusing Sfincione which has three different variations emanating from Palermo, Bagheria and the Monastery of San Vito. All three places are within a few miles of each other and all three variations look to me like they were probably the inspiration for the invention of the Chicago Deep Dish pizza. Anyone who has had to suffer through a long Chicago winter has eaten plenty of those and when you finally move out of the Windy City never fear because Lou Malnati’s will fed ex one to your new location to satisfy your lifelong addiction.
Every type of Sicilian ‘pizza’ (for want of a better description) comes with its own local traditions and ingredients and, with the recipes having been handed down from generation to generation, there’s often no longer any consensus on how exactly to make them. But one important thing they all have in common is the presence of semola di grano duro in the dough mixture.
Used mostly in Italy as the only legally permitted flour for making dried pasta, this durum wheat flour has certain advantages over the more common grano tenero (ie.soft wheat flour) when used for bread making and any type of pizza dough. It creates a more digestible dough with a crispier rim and a much chewier texture. Because of the higher gluten content it can also be easier to stretch without tearing.
It’s fascinating that most pizza dough recipes on English language websites suggest using either all purpose flour or undefined ‘bread flour’ whereas many Italian language websites include some significant percentage of durum wheat flour. There is a famous Pugliese bread made from 100% durum wheat grown in the Province of Bari; it's called Pane di Altamura and was granted PDO status in 2003.
One important thing to note however is that the semola di grano duro has to be rimacinato (re-milled or re-ground) so that it is fine enough to mix properly with soft wheat flours for breadmaking or pizza dough. For health benefits look for one like La Molisana (in the ingredients photo above) that is also described as a pietra, which simply means that it is stone ground and therefore the flour contains both the bran and the germ as well as the endosperm.
Stone grinding takes place at a much lower temperature than mass produced flours where the bran and germ are mostly lost due to the heat of the giant metal rollers. It’s in the bran and the germ that the important minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and fibre are to be found so mass produced flour is therefore mostly indigestible starch and has much less flavor and aroma.
Lumera di Noto is the ‘pizza’ of choice in the beautiful Val di Noto which includes the towns of Modica (famous for its crunchy chocolate), Scicli, Ragusa, Noto etc. This is a must-see part of Sicily with wonderful late period Baroque architecture dating back to the early 18th century rebuilding period after the destructive 1693 earthquake.
Until recently I had never heard of this very regional Sicilian food but after watching it being made by a Sicilian cook (albeit from Palermo) by the name of Giusina Battaglia it looked easy enough and very quick so now it’s become a favorite, though I like to take liberties with the toppings, but doesn’t everyone?
Her recipe and directions produce a dough that is not sticky at all thanks to the generous percentage of olive oil and it's not designed to be taken too seriously with all of the steps that real home-made pizza fanatics like to obsess over including the use of lievito madre and overnight proofing in the fridge (which is something we also like to do). Lumera di Noto is a pizza that everyone can do quite easily with a minimum of fuss and effort if you get the right ingredients.
Ingredients for four 215 gram ‘pizzas’ for 2-3 hungry people:
320 grams re-milled (remacinato) durum wheat flour
180 grams ’00’ soft wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
270 grams water
40 grams extra virgin olive oil
8 grams salt
10 grams fresh yeast
1 teaspoon honey
These are suggested quantities but better to simply go with what looks right:
300 grams good thick passata
200 grams stretched curd cheese that melts easily like caciocavallo or scamorza or provolone or mozzarella. (The formaggio ragusano DOP that is used for this dish in the Val di Noto is actually a type of caciocavallo but it had to drop that nomenclature in order to qualify for the coveted DOP status).
1. Mix the flour and salt together in one bowl and dissolve the fresh yeast and honey with the water in another bowl.
2. Add the two bowls together, mix well and then tip out onto a clean surface (no flour required) and knead for a few minutes until smooth. Rest for 2-3 hours (depending on kitchen temperature) in a bowl covered with a damp cloth.
3. Dust the surface lightly with some semola flour and divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and fold and tuck each one into a ball.
4. Half an hour before cooking, roll each one out with a rolling pin (if necessary) and place in a stack with each one separated by dusted parchment paper above and below. Rest for 20 minutes.
5. When the oven is at maximum temperature it's time to apply the toppings. It's easier to first transfer the rested dough to a lightly floured pizza peel, making sure that it can move around as you shake it and there is no part of it that is stuck to the peel. Also, we keep a cast iron pizza stone in the oven for a shorter cooking time and better results.
6. First, spread on a good thick passata leaving a decent border and add salt and olive oil.
7. Then add a few oblong slices of caciocavallo right in the center and fold the border a little less than half way to the middle.
8. Slide onto the pizza stone and bake at 250 degrees celsius for about 12 minutes until it has taken on a good color and add some fresh basil and perhaps a drizzle of oil before serving.
The version below has some mozzarella and prosciutto added for the last 2-3 minutes of cooking time to jazz it up a bit because the classic version I found a bit plain to repeat for the second lumera. This version looks so much more mouthwatering with the mozzarella having bubbled up and swamped the passata which is trying to force its way out of the corners.
I have to believe that these would sell like hot cakes from a food truck on a cold winter's day in downtown Chicago or on a street next to Northwestern University in Evanston.
And if you want you can quickly turn the Lumera di Noto into a ten sided decagon that is more like a regular pizza as shown below.