You may have heard of Scaccia Ragusana before, but I would be willing to bet that maybe you haven’t. I hadn’t until I saw it in an issue of Saveur magazine a while back, and it’s been on my to-make list ever since. This Sicilian delicacy is familiar, yet somehow unlike anything of it’s kind. A second cousin of stromboli, perhaps, but I like to think of it more as a “pizza babka” with all of its thin, folded layers. Saveur calls it lasagna bread, which is fitting I suppose, but I like pizza babka better.
Now, I know I comment on the weather a lot, and I was trying to refrain today, but it’s hard put together coherent thoughts with all of this crazy wind and rainy pitter-patter. The east coast is currently getting pummeled by a gnarly storm, and while only a few dozen miles north they’re getting like, 20 inches of snow, here on the southern coast we have been “spared” with rain. I’ll take rain over snow any day (as long as there’s no flooding), but either way, this nasty weather is for the birds. Get it together, March. Spring is going to be here any minute! Oh well, I guess if nothing else it’s a good excuse to stay inside and bake. So bring on the pizza babka.
Dough, tomato sauce, and cheese. The Italians mash these three ingredients up in so many different ways and they’re all always delicious. Calzones, stromboli, lasagna, ravioli, and of course, pizza. Even bad pizza is still pretty damn tasty. Scaccia is a new one for me, and it’s decidedly different than the others. The dough is made with semolina flour, water, a touch of olive oil, and only a small amount of yeast. It’s very different from pizza dough – much denser. It’s more similar to a pasta dough, only no eggs, there’s yeast involved (sometimes), and also… okay, it’s just different. Scaccia is really it’s own thing entirely, and that’s what makes it so special.
I held off on making this recipe for so long for a few different reasons, but the main one was that it seemed like a daunting all-day project. It was surprisingly easy and straightforward to make, at least when compared to other baked goods, like actual babka… or lasagna. The dough is really simple and doesn’t even require a mixer. Rolling it out was arguably the hardest part. I couldn’t seem to get it any thinner than I did, and yet once it was all said and done, I wished that I had tried a little harder. The thinner you can get those inner layers, the better the final result will be. Use your muscles and take as long as you need.
The sauce is as basic as a sauce can get. I love the addition of fresh basil, and as soon as it hit the warm pan it brought back intense, nostalgic whiffs of summer. As for the cheese, I couldn’t get my hands on any caciocavallo, which is what the recipe called for. The closest place that carries it is about a 45 minute drive, and I haven’t had the time or motivation to make that trek. So I tried subbing a mild provolone, and I think it worked out just fine. Next time, however, if I’m still too
lazy busy to get the caciocavallo, I may add a little pecorino Romano into the mix as well.
And you better believe there is going to be a next time. And a time after that, and a time after that. This is a recipe I plan on making again and again. For something that appears so intricate and layered, scaccia is actually pretty simple to throw together, and fairly forgiving at that. I made the mistake of being super hungry when I set out to photograph this recipe, which is why the finished photos are somewhat lacking. It was hot and gooey and smelled amazing. I couldn’t keep my grubby fingers from snatching up little bits until I just said, oh screw it, and proceeded to eat half of the entire loaf by myself in a matter of minutes.
I have a sneaking feeling that same thing might happen again today, only this time, I don’t have to take any pesky pictures. To all my east coasters out there: stay warm and dry (and definitely make scaccia).
- 1 1⁄4 teaspoons sugar, divided
- 1⁄4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
- 2 cups durum wheat semolina flour
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more
- 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt, plust more for sauce
- All-purpose flour, for dusting
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 cups canned whole peeled tomatoes with juice
- 1⁄2 cup loosely packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
- 8 oz. caciocavallo cheese, thinly sliced or grated
- OR mild provolone cheese OR half provolone half pecorino Romano
- Whisk together 1⁄4 teaspoon sugar, yeast, and water in a large bowl. Let rest about 10 minutes or until foamy.
- Add the semolina flour, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and mix until the dough just comes together. Transfer to a very lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-8 minutes. Lightly rub a bowl with oil, place the dough inside, cover and let rise in a warm, draft free place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
- While the dough rests, make the sauce. Add the remaining tablespoon olive oil to a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and cook over medium heat, until it just starts to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the saucepan and use the back of a spoon to break them up. Add the remaining teaspoon of sugar and season with salt. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until some of the liquid has evaporated. Turn off the heat, add the basil, then use an immersion blender to puree everything until smooth. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.
- Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a 9-by-5-inch (or similar) loaf pan with parchment paper. Transfer the dough on to a large, lightly floured work surface, then use a rolling pin to roll the dough out as thin as possible. Try to get it to a 26-by-18-inch rectangle, or even larger if you can.
- Position the dough lengthwise in front of you, then spread half of the tomato sauce over the middle third. Sprinkle with half of the cheese, then fold the two sides over on to the sauce so that they overlap by only a few inches in the middle.
- Spread the remaining sauce over the left two thirds of the dough, then sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Fold the righthand unsauced side over the middle part of the sauced side, then fold the lefthand sauced side over that, like folding a letter.
- Fold the dough crosswise, then tuck the whole thing into the prepared loaf pan. Brush the top with olive oil, then bake in the hot oven for about 1 hour.
- Immediately invert the scaccia onto a rack, then remove the loaf pan and parchment paper. Let the loaf cool in this position for 10 minutes. Turn the loaf right-side-up, then slice into thick pieces and serve warm.