Christmas – A Magical Time of Year
Too bad Christmas comes only once a year. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that way now as an adult, but as a child it was a magical time.
On Christmas Eve I could remember anticipating the arrival of all my Aunts, Uncles and cousins. The house was full of different aromas, dishes covered in foil on the kitchen table, pots boiling on the stove. My mother and grandmother joining forces to feed the hordes of relatives scheduled to arrive. And they pulled out all the stops. They even had my sister, who was challenged boiling water, join in the preparation.(in her defence, she was young then and only had boys on her mind) The fact that the cooking took place on two floors, my Grandparents lived on the second floor of our two family brick row house, my brother Richard and I were kept busy jockeying finished dishes and needed ingredients from one floor to the other. And if you count the basement, where we had a table big enough to sit everyone, my brother and I would run marathons delivering chairs, dishes and antipasto platters. And those were long flights of stairs! No wonder everything tasted so good when we finally sat down to eat. After a good cardio workout who needs Cynar to open your appetite!
For some reason, my mother only used the oven in the basement when she baked or roasted something. Of course we had a full kitchen in the basement, complete with refrigerator. The oven in the main kitchen was never used in my lifetime, ever. She stored her pots and pans in that oven. The stove top was fine. Yes we did have plastic slip covers on our living room sofas, but that’s another story. The only oven she used was the oven in the basement. I remember the reason my mother gave for such a set up…she didn’t want to heat up the kitchen. One would think that my brother and I would be spared from carrying hot roasted chicken or roast beef from the basement during October through February. Never happened! She had too many pots and pans stored away in the main oven for her to empty it and ever use it again.
And then they arrived. The door bell started ringing and my mother became even more animated. Grandma calling from the top of the steps to open the door, as if I couldn’t hear the bell. My cousins were the first to barge into the house, Johnny and Ralph, Georgina. Then came Aunt Mary and Uncle Sal, Aunt Angie and Uncle Benny. This was the first wave. All carrying gifts and packages in shopping bags. But the real prizes were coming in under the cover of dish towels and pot holders. I could smell the aroma of fish and lemon as they walked past me. All my aunts made something special that we would always have on Christmas Eve.
This dish is a specialty from my Grandmother’s town of Catania, which is in eastern Sicily. There are many variations to the filling. This is one of them. I’ll post others in the future. My Mother Rose was a master at making this along with my Aunt Mary, my Grandmother’s sister. This was usually a staple we had on Christmas Eve along with a dozen other dishes at a time when you could not eat meat on Christmas Eve. Scaccia or Scaciatta essentially is a pizza dough filled with all sorts of savory things and rolled up like a “jelly roll”. This is how my family made it.
1 pound Pizza Dough, recipe follows
2 cups of Pizza/Marinara Sauce, recipe follows
2 medium onions, thinly sliced, sautéed in olive oil
1/4 pound sliced pepperoni, except on Christmas Eve
1/4 pound of sharp imported Provolone Cheese, diced into small cubes.
2 tablespoons of grated Romano Cheese
Fresh flat leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Roll out pizza dough on a floured surface into a 12-15″ oval.
Spread the pizza sauce over the dough, spreading it around with the back of a spoon, go to within an inch of the end.
Spread the sautéed onions over the sauce, distributing evenly.
Put the pepperoni all around the pie
and sprinkle on provolone and Romano cheese.
Pull off the leaf ends of the parsley and spread around the pie.
Now comes the tricky part. Starting from the end closer to you, roll up the pie like a jelly roll.
When it’s completely rolled up, pinch the ends to your left and right of the roll. Pinch the seam closed and
place the “roll” seam side down on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. It might be difficult to lift the roll but if you slide one hand under each end you can lift it to the cookie sheet.
Poke holes on the top with a fork to allow steam to escape. Place the Scacia in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. After about 10 minutes of cooking time, poke a few slits on top with a knife to allow steam to escape. Rotate the pan half way through so it browns evenly.
Let the Scacia cool slightly before slicing it into three-inch slices. Use a spatula to loosen the scacia from the bottom.
If you have any sauce left over you can always use it for a dipping sauce with the scacia.
BASIC PIZZA DOUGH
Makes about 15 oz. of dough, enough for one Scacia.
Dissolve 1 teaspoon of dry yeast in 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes. Combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Blend with yeast mixture. Mix with electric mixer on low-speed for 2 to 3 minutes or until dough rides up dough hook. Add a teaspoon of water at a time if dough is too dry. Hand knead the dough for an extra 5 minutes.Dough should be smooth and elastic. If mixing by hand, first stir with wooden spoon, then knead with hands for 10 minutes. Dough should be slightly tacky. Lightly oil a 1 quart bowl with 1 tsp of olive oil. Place dough in bowl then flip dough over to oil the other side. Seal with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 1 hour or until double in size. Keep covered until ready to use. If you are not using it right away you can keep the dough covered in refrigerator and take out two hours before you use it.
1 28 oz can of peeled tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil or 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Puree tomatoes in blender. Heat olive oil in pan and cook garlic for 1 minute. Add purée tomatoes, basil, oregano, sugar and salt and pepper. Cook uncovered on medium low flame stirring occasionally for about 25 minutes or until thickened.