Sicilian Pane Cunzatu

panecunzatolg

Pane Cunzatu or Pane Cunzato means seasoned bread.  It’s the original Sicilian sandwich. There is nothing like Pane Cunzatu when made with a freshly baked loaf of bread just out of the oven.  The piping hot loaf is drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, studded with anchovies, sprinkled with oregano, and topped with thin slices of Cacciocavallo (sheep) cheese and tomatoes.  Olives and capers can also be added. It is truly a masterpiece of rich Mediterranean flavors.  It was a special treat my grandmother Vincenza made for us whenever she made homemade bread.  The better the quality of ingredients used – the better the sandwich.

So we start with the bread – in Palermo, the traditional muffuletta bread is used, but any Italian bread will do.  Here is the link to the recipe for making Muffuletta Bread, if you wish to make yours from scratch as they do in my family.  Homemade bread is not a requirement – you can use a store-bought loaf of bread.

You want to use really good quality extra-virgin olive oil, which really gives off that rich, intense green olive flavor.

Sicilian salt-cured anchovies have a different flavor than the ones you find here.  The whole fish is preserved in salt and then canned.  They are available in Italian markets or gourmet specialty stores.  If you purchase a can of Sicilian anchovies, the fish should be firm but soft.  If the anchovies are mushy – its a sign that the can is old.  Regular canned anchovy fillets are fine too.

It is traditional to use Cacciocavallo cheese in making this sandwich.  Cacciocavallo cheese is made throughout southern Italy.  I have been really disappointed in the quality of the Cacciocavallo cheese that is being imported here in the past few years.  It is not as sharp in flavor as it used to be.  This may be due to its recent commercial manufacturing.  If Cacciocavallo is not available, there are several alternative cheeses you can use.  Slightly more pungent, Greek Kasseri cheese is similar in both texture and flavor to Cacciocavallo, which is also made from sheep’s milk.  Cacciocavallo is also similar in taste to Provolone.  If using Provolone, purchase the sharp variety, not the kind you find in at the deli-counter.  I have also found that Asiago Stavecchio (extra-aged) is also great in this sandwich.

Sicilian Pane Cunzato

Difficulty Rating: Easy
Makes 4 servings.

1 (1 to 1 1/2 pound) loaf Italian bread or 1 medium loaf Muffuletta Bread (recipe)
Good quality extra-virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
8 or more anchovy fillets
Thinly sliced pieces of Cacciocavallo, Kasseri, sharp Provolone, or Asiago Stravecchio cheese
1 large tomato, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. If you are using store-bought bread, place it in the oven until crispy on the outside and heated through.

Slice the loaf of bread in half horizontally.  Drizzle some olive oil on the top and bottom half. Break off pieces of anchovy and stud the bottom half of the bread loaf.  Sprinkle with the oregano, and black pepper.  Place the cheese on top and then the tomato slices.  Place the top half on top.  Cut the bread loaf into 4 equal portions.  Secure with toothpicks if desired.

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