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“I’m a big pizza eater,” Francesco “Ciccio” Leone confesses. “But what I like most is being together with friends, conviviality.” The broad-shouldered Palermo native, 50, greets everyone who enters his establishment with a welcoming smile.

It was during a dinner party held at his home that he came up with the idea for the name of his pizzeria. “The name came about by chance,” he recalls. “My friends would come to my house to eat, they would say, ‘Ciccio, pass me this; Ciccio, pass me that,’ and so I thought of calling the pizzeria Ciccio Passami l’Olio, which means ‘Ciccio, pass me the oil.’” A simple but significant gesture found at every Italian table, at the center of which a bottle of extra virgin olive oil must be present.

Ciccio was born into a family of textile merchants, and spent the first 40 years of his life running the family business. Yet he knew that would not be his path forever. Since childhood, in fact, Ciccio had been a big fan of pizza.

“When I was fifteen years old,” he tells us, “I had a girlfriend; her father had a pizzeria. During the day I would help my parents in the store, then at night I would go to work in the pizzeria.”

As the years passed, his passion for pizza did not fade but rather continued to grow tremendously, until, as a consequence of the economic crisis and the changing market in Palermo, in 2011 Ciccio was forced to close the textile business he had inherited. That’s when he decided to take his old dream of opening his own pizzeria seriously.

After scouring the various areas of Palermo looking for a location, he finally found the right place, in Piazza Magione. “Ten years ago there were already so many pizzerias in Palermo – now there are three times as many,” says Ciccio. “I looked in the Politeama area and other neighborhoods, but I didn’t want to open my business where there were already other pizzerias; I wanted to be the only one. At the time in Magione Square there was no one, just a huge lawn.”

Piazza Magione is located in the heart of the historic Kalsa district, where the architectural features of Arab domination from a thousand years ago have been preserved. This neighborhood also earned a name as the birthplace of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the two judges who would pay with their lives in the fight against the Mafia in the early nineties. It’s an area that, until a few years ago, lived in a state of abandonment and degradation, but has risen from the ashes thanks to newly founded businesses, festivals and other events.

In 2013, as Facebook began to spread to these latitudes, Ciccio shared on his profile that he had opened a pizzeria. “All hell broke loose,” he says. His two hundred virtual friends all came together on the first Saturday of opening. “There was chaos: we were inexperienced, I only had a pizzaiolo, a dishwasher and a waiter, what were we supposed to do?”

With time and hard work came experience as well, and continued demand allowed him to expand with additional seating in adjacent premises, plus outdoor tables during the summer season.

On the menu at Ciccio Passami l’Olio are several must-try specialties, not limited to pizza alone: we suggest starting with the donzelle, small fried pizzas stuffed with tomato and mozzarella or anchovy and ricotta. Also try the apple caponata, a typical Sicilian dish of chopped and seasoned vegetables served with fresh bread; here, the classic eggplant is replaced surprisingly yet succesfully with the forbidden fruit. Ciccio’s favorite pizza is the one with sea urchins, served with a mozzarella base and a grating of lemon zest, available only in summer. But if you want to discover the true goodness of a pizza, at this or other pizzerias, the classic advice is to try the margherita, the mother of all pizzas.

“It’s like with pasta:” Ciccio Leone explains, “To see if someone can cook, you don’t need elaborate dishes, but a simple plate of spaghetti with garlic and oil…so simple that it’s almost complicated to make it.”

And we guarantee that Ciccio Passami l’Olio’s margherita pizza is simply delicious: fior di latte mozzarella, tomato and basil – topped with a light swirl of olive oil, of course.

This is thanks to Ciccio’s self-imposed imperative: quality. Whether it’s mozzarella or Prague ham, only the best ingredients are selected to ensure a great product.

From behind the counter, the pizzaioli move like a perfectly coordinated machine: while one spreads the pizza dough and tops it, another is in charge of baking the pizza, turning it over and pulling it out when the border becomes cooked to perfection. Meanwhile, Ciccio coordinates the waiters, makes sure everything runs smoothly and welcomes customers to make them feel at home.

We ask him if he misses his old life as a pizza eater, when he used to go out with friends not so much for the pizza itself but for the enjoyment of being together.

“No,” he replies, “because if I didn’t have the pizzeria, considering I’m fifty years old, I would spend most of the week locked up at home. With the excuse of the pizzeria, every night I am out: today I meet you, tomorrow a friend, which is what I like. The classic routine bores me. Here, on the other hand, friends come to visit me, I’ve reunited with old schoolmates; by now it has become a reference point for groups of friends. Even with customers, a relationship is established. It’s not just the food, but the desire to be together.”

There’s nothing more Italian than sharing a pizza with friends, and that’s exactly what Ciccio Passami l’Olio offers: great ingredients mixed with Ciccio’s welcoming spirit.

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Francesco CiprianoFrancesco Cipriano

Published on February 14, 2024

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