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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.