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  • Writer's pictureIsabella Akshay

Scaccia Ragusana: A Taste of Ragusa, Sicily

Scaccia Ragusana, a cherished traditional dish from my hometown, Ragusa, Sicily, is a staple in every bakery and a year-round favourite.


This unique stuffed flatbread, often vegetarian, features a thin, layered dough brimming with various fillings. Its multiple layers, folded over the savoury insides, create a masterpiece of local cuisine akin to stuffed bread or layered pastry, celebrated for its rich flavours and esteemed as Ragusan cuisine's crowning glory.



The Classic Varieties

Renowned varieties of Scaccia, also known as Focaccia Ragusana, include:

  • Tomato and Caciocavallo Cheese (a sharp, aged local cheese)

  • Tomato and Onion

  • Eggplant and Tomato

  • Green Fava Bean and Ricotta

  • Ricotta with Onion, Parsley, or Sausage

  • Spinach

  • Potato and Onion

  • ...and many more


Come Easter, a special version called "impanata," akin to Spanish or Portuguese empanadas, features spiced marinated lamb, baked into a pie-like shape.


Scaccia in the Global Spotlight

As Sicilian cuisine gains international acclaim, chefs worldwide have tried (and often misinterpreted) this hometown specialty. Determined to preserve authenticity, I'm sharing the traditional recipe as taught by my beloved mamma Giovanna, whose Scaccia was a renowned legend around town. She mastered the art of rolling dough to near-translucent thinness, creating an irresistibly crispy texture. Her repertoire included rare family recipes, like "scaccia con le patacche" (featuring Jerusalem artichokes), "tommasini con capuliato" (a zesty blend of sun-dried tomatoes, onions, and caciocavallo), and the unparalleled "scaccia al prezzemolo" (bursting with parsley and garlic).


A Legacy of Love and Flavor

Admittedly, making Scaccia is a labour of love. Shortly before my mother's illness and subsequent passing, I spent time with her in Sicily learning her secrets to perfect Scaccia. Those lessons, intended for my first supper club, unknowingly became our final shared cooking experience. Now, preparing Scaccia brings me closer to her, keeping her memory vibrantly alive.


Cherishing the Tradition

This recipe holds a special place in my heart, and I hope you'll cherish it as much as I do. A few key points to note:

  • The flour: We use "semola rimacinata," a fine semolina flour from durum wheat. Substituting this with all-purpose flour would alter the texture dramatically. So please don't.

  • The cheese: If using cheese at all (you don't have to as many varieties of scaccia don't require it), the recipe calls for caciocavallo. If caciocavallo is unavailable, opt for a sharp, aged, salty cow's cheese. In London, where I live, Italian delis and places like Eataly stock caciocavallo. Suitable alternatives include a sharp cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano, or Provolone del Monaco.

  • We normally use fresh brewer's yeast, which comes in 25g foil-wrapped cubes and needs to be refrigerated. If unavailable, you can replace with dry yeast but the ratio is roughly 1:3 - e.g. 12 grams of fresh yeast = 4 grams of dry yeast.

  • The authenticity: Be wary of any reference to scaccia as "lasagna bread-" we would never call it that! Also, authentic Scaccia boasts paper-thin layers – anything else simply doesn't make the cut!


I hope you'll enjoy this very special treat from my hometown, and as you do, remember to honour the recipe that holds the essence of our cuisine.



A note on Caciocavallo

Caciocavallo is a traditional Italian cheese known for its distinct shape and rich flavour. Here's a brief overview:

1. Origin and Name: Caciocavallo originates from Southern Italy, especially regions like Sicily, Campania, and Calabria. The name "caciocavallo" literally means "cheese on horseback," which is thought to refer to the way pairs of cheese are traditionally tied together with a rope and dangled over a wooden beam, resembling saddlebags on a horse.

2. Production: It's made primarily from cow's milk, although the milk of other animals can also be used. The cheese belongs to the pasta filata family, which includes cheeses like Mozzarella and Provolone. In this process, the curd is heated and then stretched and molded into various shapes.

3. Aging and Texture: Caciocavallo can be aged for different periods, ranging from a few months to several years. The aging process affects its texture significantly. A younger caciocavallo is smoother and has a mild, creamy taste, while the aged version is firmer and has a more pronounced, sharp flavour.

4. Appearance: The cheese is notable for its pear-like shape, with a head or knob at the top which is used for hanging during the aging process. It often has a smooth, golden-yellow rind.

5. Culinary Uses: Caciocavallo is versatile in the kitchen. It can be eaten on its own, particularly when it's young and soft. As it ages and the flavour develops, it's often grated over dishes, used in sandwiches, or melted in cooking. In some traditional Italian dishes, it's a key ingredient, adding a rich, savoury element.

6. Varieties: There are different varieties of caciocavallo, including some with PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, like Caciocavallo Silano. These varieties are linked to specific regions and are made according to traditional methods.

Caciocavallo, with its unique shape and rich history, is not only a staple in Italian cuisine but also a cheese that's cherished for its distinct taste and versatility.


Caciocavallo Ragusano DOP is a specific variety of caciocavallo cheese that comes from the Ragusa province in Sicily, Italy. It's recognized with a DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta, or Protected Designation of Origin) status, which ensures that the cheese is produced, processed, and prepared in a specific geographical area, using recognized and traditional production methods. Here are some key points about Caciocavallo Ragusano DOP:

1. Origin and Production Area: As the name suggests, this cheese is exclusively produced in the Ragusa province. The milk used in its production must come from local cattle breeds, such as the Modicana.

2. Milk and Process: Caciocavallo Ragusano DOP is made from whole, raw cow's milk. The milk is coagulated using calf rennet, and the resulting curd is cut, cooked, and then stretched and kneaded by hand.

3. Aging and Characteristics: The cheese is typically aged for a minimum of 3 months, but it can be aged up to 12 months or more. The aging process imparts a golden-yellow rind and a firm texture to the cheese. Younger versions have a milder, milky flavor, while the older ones develop a sharper, more intense taste.

4. Shape and Appearance: Unlike the typical pear shape of many caciocavallo cheeses, Caciocavallo Ragusano DOP is shaped into large rectangular blocks. These blocks are often marked with a distinctive pattern from the wooden boards and cloths used in the aging process.

5. Culinary Uses: This cheese can be used in a variety of dishes. It's often enjoyed as a table cheese, especially when it's younger. In Sicilian cuisine, it's also commonly grated over pasta, used in baked dishes, or even eaten grilled.

6. Cultural and Economic Importance: Caciocavallo Ragusano DOP is not just a culinary delight but also an important part of Sicilian cultural heritage. The production of this cheese supports local agriculture and traditional cheese-making practices in the Ragusa region.


The DOP status of Caciocavallo Ragusano not only guarantees its quality and authenticity but also helps preserve the traditional methods and recipes passed down through generations in Sicily.


A note of fresh brewer's yeast

Fresh brewer's yeast, also known as cake yeast or compressed yeast, is a form of live yeast often used in baking. It's a moist, perishable product, typically sold in small, foil-wrapped cubes. Here are some key characteristics:

1. Appearance and Texture: Fresh brewer's yeast is soft and crumbly with a creamy color. It's significantly more moist than its dry counterparts.

2. Usage: It's primarily used in baking to leaven bread and other baked goods. It needs to be dissolved in a liquid (usually warm water or milk) before being mixed with flour and other ingredients.

3. Flavor Profile: Fresh yeast imparts a distinct, slightly richer flavor to baked goods compared to dry yeast, which some bakers prefer for certain recipes.

4. Shelf Life: Since it's a live product, fresh brewer's yeast has a limited shelf life and needs to be refrigerated. It typically lasts for a couple of weeks, at most, when stored properly.

5. Conversion: If substituting for dry yeast in a recipe, the general conversion is that one part of fresh brewer's yeast equals about one-third part of dry yeast.

Fresh brewer's yeast is favoured in many professional and artisan baking settings for its reliable fermentation and contribution to the texture and taste of the final product.



And now, the recipe. I'm giving two different options for the filling:

  1. The recipe for my mum's Parsley & Garlic Scaccia as it's one you won't find elsewhere easily and it's my personal favourite

  2. The Tomato & Onion Scaccia as it's one of the most classic versions, along with tomato & cheese.


Ingredients (makes 8):


For the Dough:

  • 1kg semolina flour (durum wheat), plus more for flouring the surface

  • 400ml warm water

  • 12g fresh brewer's yeast (or 4g dry yeast, as explained above)

  • 4 tbsp olive oil, plus more for brushing the dough

  • 2 tsp salt


For the Filling - Parsley & Garlic:

  • 2 large bunches of fresh parsley, leaves picked individually (yes, it's tedious) and stems discarded (or use to flavour soups)

  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced

  • 400g caciocavallo cheese (or similar, as explained above), sliced to approx 2mm thickness

  • Olive oil (for drizzling)

  • Salt and pepper to taste


For the Filling - Tomato & Onion:

  • 700g tomato passata

  • 2 large onions, sliced very thinly

  • 4 tbsp olive oil for cooking the tomato sauce, plus 4 tbsp for caramelising the onions

  • Fresh basil leaves

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 1 tsp of sugar


Instructions:

  1. Prepare the Dough:

  • Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.

  • In a large bowl, mix the semolina flour and salt. Add the olive oil and the yeast mixture. Stir to form a dough.

  • Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes, until it becomes smooth and elastic.

  • Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover it, and let it rise in a warm place for about 1-2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

  1. Make the Filling - Parsley & Garlic:

  • Combine the finely chopped parsley and minced garlic. Season with olive oil, salt and pepper and let the flavours infuse while the dough rises.

  1. Make the Filling - Tomato & Onion:

  • In a pan, heat up the olive oil and add the tomato passata. Season with salt, add the basil and simmer covered on a very low flame for about 40 minutes or until the oil separates.

  • In another pan, heat the remaining oil and add the sliced onions. Season with salt, pepper and cook on a low flame until translucent. Add a few splashes of water if needed to prevent burning. When the onions are cooked through, add the sugar, leave on the flame for another couple of minutes, then allow to cool.

  1. Assemble the Scaccia:

  • Preheat your oven to 200°C (390°F).

  • Roll out the dough into a large, paper-thin rectangle on a floured surface. To do so, use a thin, long rolling pin if you have it, as it'll make things a lot easier

  • Drizzle olive oil over the dough. Evenly spread the parsley and garlic mixture, and layer with a few bits of the caciocavallo cheese.

  • For the tomato and onion version, do the same by applying a layer of sauce (make sure to cover the dough layer entirely to prevent drying) and a layer of onions.

  • Fold the dough in thirds, vertically, and and apply another layer of filling.

  • Repeat the folding horizontally until you obtain a brick-sized parcel.

  1. Bake:

  • Transfer the scaccia to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pierce with a fork and brush with more olive oil.

  • Bake in the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until the scaccia is golden brown and crispy.

  1. Serve:

  • Allow the scaccia to cool slightly before cutting it into slices.

  • Enjoy warm or at room temperature. They taste even better the next day, cold, or you can re-heat them in a toaster or oven for a few minutes if you prefer. They can be stored at room temperature (or in the fridge during warmer months) for about 3 days. They can also be frozen, once baked and cooled down, for about 3 months.

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