Pizza Strips?

Here is a dish whose whole vastly exceeds the sum of its parts. Unassuming in its simplicity, cudduruni appeases the appetite until the serving of a more substantial meal. It’s a favorite at Christmas and Easter. But in our opinion, it’s too delicious—and too easy—to save for only those occasions.

cudduruni 5 Pizza Strips?
Slices of Cudduruni
Copyright © 2009, Skip Lombardi

So as you plan your Superbowl menu, take a page from the Almost Italian playbook. Excerpted from our new book Almost Italian: A Cookbook & History of Italian Food in America, this recipe for cudduruni should give you the courage to say “NO” to game-day interruptions by franchise pizza chain delivery boys. Although it’s hard to resist eating this treat hot out of the oven, most Sicilians prefer cudduruni at room temperature.

Èccolo! Here’s the perfect football food. Sometimes known as “pizza strips*,” cudduruni, shares some of the characteristics of deep-dish pizza and focaccia. Nonetheless, it really is distinct from anything else in Sicilian-American cooking.

With its Sicilian pedigree, we think a sheet pan of cudduruni could well be the most diplomatic way to feed Superbowl XLVII fans and honor the contending teams. Hailing from San Francisco and Baltimore, two cities with large populations of southern Italian descent, The 49ers and The Ravens will be playing in the Big Easy, whose French Quarter was once so solidly Sicilian that it was known as Little Palermo!

cudduruni 4 Pizza Strips?
Cudduruni, fresh from the oven
Copyright © 2009, Skip Lombardi

Among the qualities that distinguish cudduruni are:

  • Cudduruni is always baked in a pan, even if it goes into a wood-fired oven.
  • The cheese topping, if any, is parmesan or romano. Never mozzarella. (If cheese were ever incorporated in the Old World Sicilian version, it would have been the sheep’s milk pecorino of the Italian South.)
  • The “sauce” is no more than canned, crushed tomatoes in a heavy purée. (Some families did use strattu, the sun-dried tomato conserve many southern Italian-Americans made at home.)

Nearly every Little Italy bakery in New England once produced some version of cudduruni. Traditionally available only on Saturday morning, the treat was typically just a slab of dough spread with the requisite olive oil, tomato purée, and parmesan. (The Palmieri Bakery in Providence, Rhode Island, still offers their brilliantly simple, cheeseless version.) A few establishments added sliced garlic or dried oregano to the topping, while a handful went all out in their expression of abbondanza by tossing on ground beef, sausage, or anchovies before the pan went into the oven.

Skip recalls-

When I lived in the North End of Boston, I particularly enjoyed the version on offer at Parziale’s on upper Salem Street, although Bova’s on the corner of Salem and Prince produced a consistently fine product, too. Even Mike’s and Modern Pastry-bakeries best—known for their dolci—made cudduruni on Saturdays. My weekend typically began with the ritual purchase of a half-dozen strips, and by the time I’d finished my errands, I rarely had more than two left.

Growing up in Middletown, Connecticut, during the 1960’s, I was fortunate enough to have several cudduruni suppliers. Marino’s on Ferry Street and Lastrina’s on Union Street were veritable temples of pizza, but it was nice to have a strip or two of cudduruni while waiting for a pie. And Public Market on Main Street was always a reliable source on a Saturday morning.

My grandmother made cudduruni—among a host of other snacks—for our family’s open house each Christmas Eve. Beginning in late afternoon, various aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends would stop by for some holiday cheer; cudduruni was always part of the spread.

When my nonna made hers, she poured a slick of olive oil across the bottom of a sheet pan, placed the dough in the pan, and stretched it out to reach the sides.

Our recipe here is a little more conservative with the oil. By using parchment paper, we have an easier clean-up and still get that delicious, baked-with-olive-oil flavor.

Cudduruni

Ingredients:

1 Lb. Pizza dough at room temperature
2 – 3 Tbs. Olive oil
1 1/2 Cups crushed tomatoes in heavy purée
1 tsp. Crushed red pepper flakes (peperoncini)
1/2 Cup freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese

Preparation:

Use a baking dish or heavy sheet pan at least 9 x 14 inches. Cut a sheet of parchment paper large enough cover the bottom and sides of the pan. (It’s okay if the paper sticks up a little above the sides.) Fit the paper into the pan and set it aside.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.

If you’re using parchment paper, lightly flour the dough, then stretch and roll it out to approximately the size of your pan. Place the rolled-out dough into the pan and stretch it to meet the sides.

If you’re not using parchment, lightly coat the bottom of a sheet pan with olive oil. Place the dough in the center of the sheet pan, then press and stretch to flatten the dough to fill the pan.

Coat the top of the dough with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Then, using a large spoon or ladle, spread the crushed tomatoes over the oiled dough.

Sprinkle the red pepper flakes and grated cheese evenly over the tomatoes.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes in the middle of the preheated oven.

Serves a sofa-full of fans.

cudduruni 2 Pizza Strips?
Anche un po di vino va bene
Copyright © 2009, Skip Lombardi

Trust us: cudduruni really IS delicious at room temperature, and in our opinion, that makes it ideal football fare.**

*NOTE: This post is an excerpt from a much lengthier discussion of the history and etymology of cudduruni, published in our eBook, Almost Italian.

**Several of our readers have told us that in their communities, cudduruni would be cut into narrow strips, thus making it easier to serve and eat as finger food, especially for kids. They were a popular treat at birthday and First Communion celebrations long before there even was a Superbowl.

    11 thoughts on “Pizza Strips?

    1. Rex Russo

      Skip,
      For some of those early Super Bowls, I recall going with my pop on a cold Middletown, CT day to Marino’s Bakery in the North End for some Cudduruni. They also made great Sicilian Pizza, which wasn’t to much different. Oddly, I think they only made the Cudduruni for special occasions. Although I was a kid, I recall liking the anchovies on top. Not sure if it was on the Cudduruni, or more likely the Sicilian. I’m sure you remember as well. Of course, the family that came up from New Haven ate it like crazy while bragging how their pizza and cicola bread were better. Pop would just laugh and say: “Have another piece!”

      1. Skip

        Hello, Rex,

        Food does indeed make strong memories. We’re fortunate to have had so many unique and delicious treats (Cudduruni, Scacciata, & Stimparata, e.g.) growing up in Middletown.

        Holly & I will continue to do our best to keep the memories alive.

        All the best,
        Skip

    2. Ed Iannuccilli

      Holly and Skip. I love this post, not only for the delicious recipe, but also for giving us the personal story of your youth in the North End. I can taste your grandmother’s cudduruni. And once Diane makes your recipe, I will savor yours. Thank you. Tante belle cose….

    3. Roxanne

      Skip & Holly I come from Philly and we called this Tomato Pie and our local bakeries only had this on Sunday’s and at the Feast of St. Anthony at the local parish…I love it and make it myself and now have my entire family and Irish relatives hooked on it as well.

      1. Skip

        It was a real treat several years ago when Holly & I discovered “pizza strips” one Saturday at Palmieri’s on Federal Hill.

        Best regards,
        Skip Lombardi

    4. Nick

      Is this simply another name for what Americans call “Sicilian” pizza? Cudduruni, schiattata, American Sicilian……..they seem to all be related, a thick, square, pan cooked pizza….all with tHeir own unique characteristics, but all basically the same….pizza alla castlinga. In other words HOME style pizza, as opposed to thin, flash cooked pizza, usually eaten out, at pizzerias.

      How far off am i in this description?

      Thanksi

      1. Skip

        Hi Nick,

        Thanks for your comment. I suppose that on one level they are pretty much the same. Although they’re not all necessarily made at home. Even today, you can get some pretty good scacciata at a couple of places in downtown Middletown, Connecticut.

        But beyond that, they differ because of the occasions at which they’re usually eaten. My grandmother made cudduruni several times per year but made scacciata only twice or three times…nearly always holidays. That certainly made it more special.

        Best regards,
        Skip

    5. Nick

      Skip,
      When you choked down in fed hill, did you ever get the chance to eat a strip at CASERTAS? Hands down the BEST I’ve ever eaten……I’d would devour one whole before a night of barhoppin at PC.

      Nick

    6. Karen

      Hi Skip,
      I grew up in Rhode Island and pizza strips (that’s how I know them) were a delicious part of my heritage. My paternal grandmother (Mama) was an amazing cook, but I wasn’t as fortunate as you were to enjoy them homemade! And yes, there are still bakeries making them all over RI, particularly in Johnston, Cranston and North Providence. Unfortunately, the original Palmieri’s on the Hill changed ownership a few years ago and the old family recipes seem to be gone. :-(

      My kids are growing up in the Midwest, where I have never seen cudduruni or anything resembling them. I think the first time they tasted pizza strips on a visit to my family they felt incredibly deprived – they’d never had anything like it!

      I just linked to your post – thanks for sharing this!

      http://familystylefood.com/2013/02/gorgonzola-focaccia-chicory-and-walnuts/

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