Most of my youth I lived in Middletown, Connecticut, a small town on the Connecticut river most known as the home of Wesleyan University, a “little” ivy league liberal arts college. We moved there so my mom could get her Masters’ degree but what most influenced me about living in Middletown were the abundance of Mom and Pop Italian eateries.
As I’ve written before, I worked at Mazzatta’s Italian Restaurant, making pizza, calzones, and scacciatas (prounced SkaChaTa). Most of the world knows pizza and calzones – pizza everyone knows and calzones are pizza dough pockets stuffed with ricotta cheese and assorted goodies. While calzones are good when you’re in the mood for lots of creamy cheese studded with veggies or some pepperoni or sausage, my favorite choice from the restaurant were the scacciatas – pizza dough wrapped around garlicky broccoli, spinach or potato topped with mozzarella and sausage.
I was not alone in my obsession with scaccaitas. Every major holiday customers would order huge sheet pans of scacciatas from Mazzattas (sheet pans are 18″x26″ – that’s a whole lotta scacciata!) Easter and Christmas scacciatas were particularly popular and I can recall hours of making multiple sheet pans for a single order. Yet, no one I have me, in either the U.S. or throughout my travels in Italy has heard of these delicious scacciatas. Finally, I did talk to someone who thought the word itself sounded like a Sicilian dialect term, which seemed to confirm my theory that scacciatas must have originated with a single family that brought it to Middletown and popularized the dish. This fit with the legend of Middletown as I was told it; the city was founded in 1650 but when four families from Sicily settled in Middletown in the early 1900s, the Italian American population grew to represent more than two thirds of the inhabitants of the town. So I present to you what I consider a Sicilian family heirloom, although of unknown family heritage!
While this can just as easily be made with broccoli, I chose spinach since the farmers’ market had my favorite spinach, bloomsdale. Bloomsdale spinach is an heirloom variety that is more substantial than the flat leaf spinach usually found in the grocery stores and I love its crinklely texture, similar to Swiss chard.
I don’t mean to mislead you; this is true peasant food but it takes several steps to prepare it. This version of the recipe is for 2-3 three people, but it is worth doubling it since you will be so disappointed when it is all eaten up so quickly!
calzone/pizza dough for one 12 inch pizza (like this)
2 lbs fresh spinach, washed and steamed
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 link of sweet Italian Sausage, casing removed, crumbled and cooked on stovetop
Day before serving, make marinated spinach mix. Heat olive oil over medium low heat and add minced garlic and saute until garlic just begins to brown; remove from heat and blended into spinach and add salt to taste. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours.
The day you plan to serve the scacciata, make calzone/pizza dough. DO NOT USE the Neapolitan style dough I use for pizza; that dough is too thin for stuffing. When dough has risen, punch it down and stretch it out into a circle. Preheat oven to 500 degrees (or as high as your oven will go). Place spinach mixture on one side of the circle, leaving at least a 1 inch border. Place sausage on top of spinach and distribute mozzarella and parmesan cheeses over top. Gently pull dough over mounded mixture and seal edges by twisting dough in a pretzel like motion (like you are twisting two pieces of dough together with your thumb and forefinger) and tuck tail under the scacciata. Transfer the scacciata to a greased cooking sheet and lightly flatten the top. Poke the top of the scacciata several times to create steam holes and lightly oil top. Bake for 20-25 minutes until top is nicely browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 5 minutes and then cut into wedges and serve.