Pane cunzatu: panino heaven in Sicily

Scopello, Sicily
Scopello, originally uploaded by Rubber Slippers In Italy on Flickr

I don’t believe it takes a whole lot to convince anyone of Sicily’s fabulous food, but to really get the feel of this dish, it doesn’t hurt to gaze upon an ocean view not far from a shop that puts heaven between 2 slices of bread. Pane cunzatu is a panino so deceptively simple that at first you might think it must be all hype and zero substance. The sicilian term cunzatu comes from the italian condito (seasoned), and while there are many variations depending on where you are on the island, the pane cunzatu in Scopello is 100% pure, no-fuss flavors. Fresh tomatoes, oregano, cheese, anchovies, salt, pepper and a generous helping of olive oil between bread made in a wood-burning oven. There are open-faced versions in Salina (in the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily) that resemble super-sized bruschetta, and from what I’ve read, they are as good as they look. I broke my vow of eating seasonal because this couldn’t wait until tomatoes were no longer greenhouse, and anyway, who can blame me when I get to use ingredients like these.

Stuff for pane cunzatu

Evoo, tomatoes, capers, caperberries (known as cucunci/koo-KOON-chee in Sicily), oregano, fresh basil, primo sale* and anchovies. The bread are small chewy loaves of ciabatta. Of the multitude of variations and their ingredients: sun-dried tomatoes, roasted eggplant, grilled bell peppers, canned tuna, olives, onions, fresh mozz, provola cheese, baked ricotta and sicilian pecorino. *Primo sale is the name given to fresh cheese when they receive the first external salting.

Pane cunzatu

I always thought of caperberries – cucunci – as happy hour nibbles but these wonderful bites on a stem are also used in pasta. Ciabatta is split lengthwise and drizzled with evoo.

Pane cunzatu

At first glance primo sale looks like ricotta but the flavor is way better since it has received its first salting. The anchovies here are the oil-preserved type but marinated ones would work as well. Naturally, tomatoes should be the freshest, most tastiest that you can get your hands on and I look forward to Cherokee Purples when the garden is up and producing. Drizzle again with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Press top half onto the bottom and eat!

Pane cunzatu

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