Slab City

An ode to one of my favorite slices

The Sicilian "Slab” pizza is justifiably famous in New England and beyond, especially for regular visitors to Portland, Maine. It was first created by Steven Lanzalotta, who for many years used to produce it in a little bakery set into the back of Micucci’s Grocery, an Italian specialty shop in the Old Port. My pal Liz Bomze once wrote a profile of Micucci’s-era Lanzalotta for Serious Eats—the piece has since been lost to time, but not before I saved it to my computer—containing this perfect description of what is so wonderful and distinctive about his slab slices:

The crust is surprisingly light, striated, and almost cakey with a pleasant chew—qualities that Lanzalotta attributes to thoroughly hydrating the dough (about 90 percent), using high-quality ingredients (King Arthur Bread Flour, SAF yeast, grey sea salt, water, and a particularly floral Portuguese olive oil), and letting the dough rise five times over the course of its three-hour fermentation. By the time it's ready for baking, the jiggle-y five-pound mass has risen a bit and formed a thin skin that keeps it from sticking.

As for the toppings, Lanzalotta keeps it simple: A thin coating of smooth sauce—crushed tomatoes, garlic, salt, and a little sugar that gives the finished product distinct sweetness—a few light handfuls of provolone and mozzarella, a drizzle of that good fruity olive oil, and a sprinkle of dried herbs. Once baked, the pie has what Lanzalotta calls a "geography" of primary colors: puffy red peaks, creamy chasms of white cheese, and charred black bubbles of crust.

One key detail that didn’t make it into Liz’s otherwise evocative portrait of the Slab: the unique texture of its bottom crust. Rather than being crunchy-crisp and oily like many other pan pizzas, it has a soft, yielding texture beneath a whisper-thin shell of crispness, not unlike that of a freshly-baked yeasted donut. (It even has the aroma of a fried donut when first pulled from the pan.) How this is achieved was something that took me years to understand and recreate at home.

Another thing not clear from the above description: Each Slab is 1/6th of a full-sheet pan pizza, weighing in at nearly 1 pound per! Despite that heft, they are impossibly light in practice, and—for better or worse—easily consumed by a single person in no time at all.

In 2013, after many years of making the Slab, along with his half-moon shaped “luna” breads (produced from the same fluffy dough, and pictured at the bottom of this post), two of the store’s most popular products, Lanzalotta was fired by Micucci’s for advocating for the bakers working under him:

In an email to “friends and patrons” of the bakery, which is in the back of the grocery, Lanzalotta said he was fired Tuesday after six years for “‘overstepping my bounds’ in advocating for raises and fuller work weeks for bakery assistants under my direction, and recommending store changes to improve traffic work flow.”

Not only did Micucci’s show Lanzalotta the door, they decided to keep making and selling his recipes, even though Lanzalotta insisted he had a contract denying the bakery rights to the recipes that Lanzelotta developed prior to working there. Even the thread of a boycott wasn’t enough to stop them. (I never set foot in Micucci’s again after that myself. Lanzalotta & Micucci’s recipe dispute was touched upon in this story from The Counter, “Who Owns a Pizza Recipe?”)

Fortunately for fans of Lanzalotta and his pillowy slices, in 2015 he opened a full-service restaurant—named Slab, naturally—just a stone’s throw from Micucci’s. It features a large menu of pizzas, calzones, and sandwiches using the Slab dough formula, along with a full bar. Lanzalotta has since sold the restaurant and the brand to several of his employees, but the Slab survives, and is as special as ever.

I’ve been making a version of the slab dough almost since Liz wrote that revealing description of Lanzelotta’s process. With all that juicy intel, I couldn’t resist the dare of reverse-engineering it at home, especially since Portland is not exactly down the street for me. The Phantom Gourmet video embedded above also helped to fill in some of the remaining details on how it is put together.

I’ve revisited my own recipe recently, and now consider it truer than ever to the real thing. It deviates from the one Lanzalotta described in a few ways:

One: The hydration is slightly lower, since I couldn’t otherwise get around a slight gumminess in the center of my pie with that much water, probably because home ovens can’t get quite as hot as Slab’s do.

Two: It contains 10% semolina flour. Despite what Lanzalotta told Liz, other sources —including the ingredient list on a retail package of Slab’s luna breads—insist that the Slab dough includes some semolina, entirely appropriately for a Sicilian product. I’ve read elsewhere that Slab uses as much as 20%, but I found the crust to be much too crisp when I used that much, so I use a more modest, but still noticeable 10%.

Three: It’s scaled down by half, since home ovens and full sheet pans are incompatible. This is one way that my version doesn’t quite live up to the real deal: There is no way to cut a half-sheet pizza into 3 square slices of a pound each, so instead I divide the smaller pie into six half-pound slices. Something is lost when the Slabs are reduced in scale like that, but it is what it is. (I have a longer rant to share someday about how the scale of a pizza has a big influence on how it eats—a NYC slice, for example, is infinitely better when cut from a 16-inch pie than a 12-inch one.)

You can find the remaining details of the recipes at the link below. I’m sharing this one with everyone, since it is so good, but I hope you’ll consider using this moment as enticement to upgrade to a paid subscription if you haven’t yet already.

If you do, you’ll gain access to the discount code that will save you 25% off on the Slab pizza Zoom workshop I am holding on 11/26. Not only will the class give you a much better sense of how to make the Slab pizza at home, you’ll also get exclusive details on how to turn the same dough into those Luna-style loaves and rolls pictured above.

You’ll find the pizza recipe (along with a printable PDF) by clicking the button below:

Sicilian Slab Pizza Recipe