Meaning ‘squashed’ or ‘flattened’ in Italian, is also a name given to an Italian pizza/bread that has a myriad of variations throughout Italy. This recipe for schiacciata with onion, potato, tomato sauce, and ground meat comes to us from Nonna Gina and Nonno Joe from Windsor, Ontario Canada. We spent a Sunday with Gina and Joe making a couple of their family’s most requested dishes. According to Rina, one of their daughters, this schiacciata recipe is a favourite and to start a family feud all that has to be asked is who makes it better – mamma or papa!
Joe comes from a small village in Sicily called Montallegro. During WWII, money was scarce and Joe’s mother, Nonna Domenica, had 7 young children to feed with limited access to food. She would prepare and bake enough bread to last a week. When the supply was running low and she needed to replenish the loaves, she would splurge and make a ‘schiacciata’ for the family. There was no meat available at this time so they used what they had available to them. She would prepare the dough and fill it with cauliflower, potatoes, and tomatoes. This special treat would fill their bellies and was an indulgence they looked forward to every week. After the war ended, other ingredients such as meat became more readily available so Nonna Domenica was able to replace the cauliflower with ground beef and pork and also added onions and tomato sauce. This variation was enjoyed by all and still remains the preferred filling. Nonna Domenica taught her son, the now Nonno Joe and his wife, the now Nonna Gina, this treasured family recipe. Nonno Joe and Nonna Gina continue to make this dish for their family and friends and it has become the most requested ‘pizza’ dish.
We really wish you could be a fly on the wall when we have these discussions with nonnos and nonnas. Nothing sparks memories and nostalgia more than food. Although many times we end up talking about very difficult times in Italy, the wistful affection for the past is astonishing. A testament to a common Italian sentiment that makes me think of my own mother who always tells us – ‘we were poor but we were happy’.
We were treated to the hospitality that one becomes accustomed to from a Nonna. Upon entering and introducing each other over a hot espresso (of course!) we were shown a finished schiacciata coming out of the oven already at 10 o’clock in the morning! Nonna Gina and Nonno Joe had gotten up early to make sure that one was made and cooked by the time we got there so that we could try some with lunch. The trials we experience in recipe documentation were witnessed by all as we watched her and recorded the preparation of ingredients for the second schiacciata. We all had a good laugh as we insisted on measuring the salt in her hand and the oil she was pouring!
Once certain we had all the ingredients and steps written down, we photographed the schiacciata and all of us sat down for an epic lunch. We completed two recipes that day and devoured both at lunch. Needless to say, we weren’t hungry for a while! And of course, left overs were packed up Nonna-style for us which our husbands were very grateful for!
The schiacciata is a meal on its own. Very hearty and flavourful. Although the fennel seed is optional in the recipe, the hint of it really shines through. According to one of Gina and Joe’s daughters who is a frequent visitor to their hometowns in Italy, this dish is made in bakeries and served hot and fresh early in the morning. This would be good for the really late night crowd!
As with most nonna’s and grandmothers around the world, this recipe was never written down. We are happy to help record this family favourite and share it with all of you now.
- 2.5 lbs of pizza dough
- 2–3 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 1 lb white potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced to ¼” thickness
- 750ml tomato passata (crushed tomatoes)
- 1 cup mozzarella, shredded
- 2 tbsp Romano cheese, grated
- 1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garlic powder to taste
- Dried parsley to season
- Olive oil for cooking and drizzling
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Line a 19″X12″ lasagna pan with parchment paper and grease lightly with olive oil.
- Divide the dough into 2 sections and let rest for 30 minutes covered with food-safe plastic wrap. One section will be 1/3 of the dough for the top and the other section will be 2/3 of the dough for the bottom. The bottom dough needs to be a little thicker than the top dough.
- In a large frying pan, over medium heat, add 1 ½ tbsp olive oil. Caramelize the onions then set aside.
- Using the same large frying pan (cleaned), add 1-2 tbsp olive oil and brown the pork and beef meats over medium heat until cooked. Season the meat with salt, pepper, granulated garlic and dried parsley (to your taste and liking).
- Add the potatoes and allow to cook 4-5 minutes to get some color, then add the tomatoes.
- Continue to cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.
- Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning if necessary then set aside to cool.
- Roll out the ⅔ portion of the rested dough to a rectangle which is slightly larger than the pan. Place it in the prepared pan so that it fits the bottom nicely and goes up the sides of the pan.
- Lightly brush the dough with olive oil.
- Add the potato and meat mixture spreading evenly over the dough. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Add the caramelized onions evenly over the surface. Next, sprinkle the fennel seeds over the entire area if using. Add the mozzarella and Romano cheese to cover evenly.
- Lightly press the ingredients down as you add them.
- Roll out the remaining ⅓ portion of dough into a 19X12” rectangle and place on top of the mixture. Pinch the sides of the bottom dough with the top layer to form a seal all the way around the schiacciata. Using the tines of a fork, press down evenly all around the seal.
- Brush the dough with a little olive oil then sprinkle lightly with some more of the Romano cheese.
- Using a sharp knife, add a few slits in the top layer of dough for the steam to escape during cooking.
- Cover the pan with a clean tea towel and let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes. The dough will begin to rise.
- Remove the tea towel and cover the pan with foil. Place the pan on the lower rack of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and move the pan to the upper rack. Bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the dough is crispy and browned.