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No-Knead Ciabatta

No-Knead Ciabatta

The scent of bread baking in the oven and soup simmering on the stove while snow falls outside your window is one of life’s pleasures.
Ok, ok, so relaxing on a Caribbean beach with a Planter’s Punch while your friends and relatives back home are slipping on icy driveways is pretty high up there, too.
But if you can’t hop on a plane to Barbados or the Bahamas, you can at least satisfy your craving for really good bread with this recipe from Jim Lahey.
Lahey, if you recall, is the guru behind the no-knead bread recipe that swept the country (with good reason) many years ago. His first book, “My Bread,” contains this recipe for ciabatta that will spoil you for anything other than artisanal bread.
The only hitch is you need a special clay pot  – a Romertopf – and a pizza stone.
If you don’t have them, or don’t want to buy them, make Lahey’s original no-knead bread with the recipe here.
My kids bought the clay pot for me a couple of years ago when I first made this recipe.
I haven’t made it since — that is, until a couple of weeks ago, when snow was falling in the Northeast U.S.
Never mind that it’s nearly 70 degrees F. this week in New Jersey. You’ll want to bake this any time of year, no matter the temperature.
You have to give it some thought ahead of time, since the first rising takes 12 to 18 hours. Very little yeast is used, hence the need for a long rise, resulting in a dough that’s got a great texture – filled with wonderful small and medium sized holes.
After it’s risen to double in size, add just enough additional flour to shape it into a loaf, then let it rise again for an hour.
You’ll then cut it in half before placing it in the oven.
You need to stretch out the dough into a flatter shape and place it on top of the pizza stone (don’t worry, it seems like you’ve deflated it, but it will rise a little more in the oven.)
Then cover the dough with the overturned Romertopf pot that’s been heating in the oven – careful, it’s extremely hot!
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the pot and bake another 10-20 minutes. Repeat with the other loaf, and you’ve got two gorgeous, crusty and delicious ciabatta loaves.
I guess you know that ciabatta means “slipper” in Italian, referring to the squat shape of the bread.
If it’s not stretched out sufficiently, the ciabatta becomes a little “stouter” in shape, which is fine too. It tastes just as good.
Another time, you might want to try shaping part of it into smaller, sandwich size rolls.

Add some prosciutto and burrata for a delicious panino.

Enjoy with some homemade soup for a satisfying lunch or dinner.
Or skip the soup, open a bottle of good red wine, add a chunk of cheese, slice up the bread and call it a day.

You won’t even miss that warm beach and Planter’s Punch.
 
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No-Knead Ciabatta
from Jim Lahey’s “My Bread”
printable recipe here

3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 t. table salt
1/4 t. instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cool (55 to 65 degrees F.) water (I needed more – just add enough until you get a “loose” consistency but not so wet that it can’t be shaped)
additional flour for dusting

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.

When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Dust the surface of the dough with flour and, with lightly floured hands, nudge the dough into roughly a 14 inch square. Fold the dough in half, and then crosswise in half again, so you have a square, roughly 7 inches on each side.

Place the dough in a warm, draft-free spot, cover it with a tea towel, and let rise for 1 hour. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, soak the clay baker for 10 minutes.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. with a rack in the center. Place the baker on the pizza stone, and put the stone and baker in the center of the rack.

Using pot holders, carefully remove the hot pot and stone from the oven, taking care not to set them on a cold surface. Using a dough cutter or sharp serrated knife, cut the dough in half. Shape each piece into a long flat loaf. Generously dust each loaf with flour (you will bake 1 loaf at a time). Pick up 1 loaf with both hands, quickly but gently stretch it to almost the length of the clay pot (roughly 10 inches) and place it on the stone. Using pot holders, cover the loaf with the inverted pot, and bake for 20 minutes.

Uncover the loaf and place the pot on another rack in the oven, to keep it hot for the second loaf. Continue to bake the first loaf for 10 to 20 minutes, checking the color of the loaf once or twice. It is done when the crust is a light chestnut color. Using pot holders, carefully remove the stone from the oven. Transfer the ciabatta to a rack to cool thoroughly, and bake the second ciabatta the same way.

Focaccia

Focaccia

You haven’t seen me post any cookies, cakes or pastries on the blog for a long time and there’s a reason for that. Desserts really are my weakness so I thought I might give them up for Lent this year. The good news is that I succeeded in not succumbing during the entire 40 days. The bad news is that I compensated with far too much pizza, pasta and panini, including those similar to the photo above, made with homemade focaccia. I’m rethinking this whole idea of renouncing something for Lent and next year will skip it. Instead, I think I’ll spend more time in reflection, meditation and prayer – something I never seem to find time for on a daily basis, but that I think would be more meaningful than giving up a portion of tiramisu and gorging on other foods instead.
So onto the focaccia – a simple dough that’s easily made, but there’s an important word for you to learn first — temperature. Yes, temperature of the water is key. Too cold and the yeast takes forever to do its thing. Too hot, and you’ve killed the yeast. So grab a thermometer and take the temperature of the water. It should be between 105 and 110 degrees. Proceed from there and mix all the ingredients, then knead the dough, roll into a ball, and place in an oiled bowl. Cover and wait a couple of hours.
The yeast will work its magic and it will double in size.
Cut it in half and spread half of it in a cast iron skillet. Push down with your fingers and “dimple” the dough, then sprinkle with coarse salt and chopped rosemary.
Here’s what it looks like when it comes out. Leave it in the oven longer if you like it more golden.
You could cut it up and serve it as bread with a meal, or you could split it and make panini instead.
Fill the focaccia with whatever floats your boat. This one’s filled with prosciutto, burrata cheese and arugula fresh from my garden, a return crop from last year.
This one’s filled with those wild greens I gathered recently, as well as melted mozzarella cheese (place the filled focaccia in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese).
But this one — well this one’s my favorite. It’s filled with cooked sausage, broccoli rape, roasted red peppers and drippingly delicious melted provolone cheese. Buon Appetito.

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Join me and Kathryn Abajian in Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Italy to savor the slow life, to start or refine your memoir or other writing and explore a lesser-known part of Italy. Only a couple of spots left for this week in an unspoiled  village amid stimulating company, great food each day and excursions to interesting places nearby. Life is short – go for it.  It’s really as good as it sounds, so don’t dally – check out “Italy in Other Words.”

 Focaccia
printable recipe here

2 1/4 t. dry yeast (1 package)
1 t. sugar
4 cups flour (I used bread flour)
1 1/2 t. salt
1 1/4 cups warm water (between 105 and 110 degrees)
olive oil to drizzle on top
coarse, or kosher salt for the top
chopped rosemary

Dissolve the yeast in about 1/4 cup water and add a tsp. of sugar to help get it started. The temperature of the water is very important. I use a meat thermometer to get the right temperature. Too cold and it takes forever for the dough to rise. Too hot and you kill the yeast.
After the yeast has sat in the small bit of water and sugar, it should start to bubble up in about five minutes.
Mix it with the flour, the rest of the water and the salt. You can use a food processor or just mix it by hand in a bowl until it’s all blended. Add more flour or water if needed. Knead for about five minutes, then place in a greased bowl and cover it with a dish towel, plastic wrap or a large plate. Let it rise in a warm place until doubled. This could take a couple of hours.

Punch down the dough and split it in half. Spread out half in a cast iron skillet if you have one. If not, just make a free-form circle of dough by rolling and stretching.

Let it sit for about five minutes in the pan, then use your fingers to dimple the top. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt, then some minced rosemary.

Bake in a preheated 500 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Check to see the bottom is browned and if not, take it out of the pan and place directly on your oven rack. Repeat with the other half of the dough once the cast iron skillet is cool enough to handle.

Olive And Ham Bread

Olive and Ham Bread

“Le Matte,” the group of Italian women I’ve told you about, who meet each week to chit-chat in Italian, met at my home last week. Over the years, these gatherings have morphed from a simple coffee and cake gathering to an event with an intimidating array of savory and sweet treats. Recently, we’ve tried to limit the foods to two savory and two sweet items. Otherwise, the hostess has to spend too much time in preparation, a deterrent for many who might otherwise offer their homes for the meetings. It seems to be working, along with another new twist started in the last few months. We now team up with a partner and share the work. That makes it much easier and more fun too.

Last week I teamed up with my friend Anna, who hails from the Trentino region, and who also happens to be a great cook. (Well, actually most of the women in this group are terrific cooks.) I made the sweet things -a pastiera and lemon tiramisu – recipes I’ve already posted. Anna offered to make the savory foods and chose two different breads including this olive and ham loaf. It has a really tender crumb and it’s packed chockful with flavorful ingredients. After the group had dispersed, she left me a couple of slices which we ate for dinner that night, alongside some sauteed vegetables and couscous. But it’s also great all by itself if you’re having friends over for dinner and want a little something to serve beforehand with drinks.

One of the ingredients Anna uses in the recipe is mimolette cheese, something I had never heard of before. It’s a cow’s milk cheese that has a greyish crust and an orange-colored interior, and sort of resembles a cantaloupe. Anna said if you can’t find it, you can substitute a good quality aged cheddar cheese instead.

Mimolette cheese

Olive and Ham Bread

For the ham, ask the person at the deli counter to cut you a thick slice of baked ham, then dice it into small bits.

5 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
3 T. mixture of fresh herbs, minced: Italian parsley, basil leaves and chives
3 T. strong French mustard
salt, pepper

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup rye flour
1 T. baking powder

1 1/4 sticks melted butter
1 cup grated mimolette cheese or sharp aged cheddar cheese
1 7-ounce piece of baked ham
1 cup pitted green olives

Preheat oven to 360 degrees.
Butter a 5 x 9 inch loaf pan and coat lightly with flour.
Beat the eggs with a fork, then add the milk, herbs, mustard, salt and pepper to taste.

Sift the flour and the baking powder in a bowl; Add the melted butter, the grated cheese, the olives, the egg/milk mixture and the ham.

Blend the ingredients with a wooden spoon and transfer to the loaf pan. Bake for one hour. The cake is done when a sharp blade inserted in the center comes out dry. Wait 15 minutes before unmolding on a cake rack.

No-knead Bread

No-knead bread

I’m sure many of you foodies have made or eaten this bread by now. It originated with Jim Lahey of the Sullivan St. Bakery in New York City, and its fame spread exponentially when Mark Bittman wrote about it in the New York Times. So much so that the weekend after the recipe was printed, food blogs reported that stores in the city were sold out of yeast.

Is all the fuss worth it? Well, if you’ve eaten it, you already know the answer. If you haven’t tried it, or made it yet, get thee to a grocery store. Quickly. Right Now. Before the stores close for the day or run out of yeast. Well, alright, read this post first.

Fresh out of the oven and placed on a board, this bread speaks to you – literally. It starts to make a crackling sound that augurs all the goodness in the eating ahead – a crust so crunchy and an interior so chewy and full of texture you’d swear it was baked by a real Italian baker in a brick oven.

My husband, whose father was a real Italian baker with a brick oven (and who later migrated to the U.S. and started his business all over again) swears this is almost as good as the bread he used to eat growing up. His cousins in Italy still maintain the bakery in a small village in Abruzzo. Having been there many times, I can say that the family’s bread (and pizza) is fantastic and special for different reasons, not the least of which is the nostalgia quotient.
But in the U.S., Lahey’s bread is the best substitute. It will spoil you against ever eating ordinary bread from a supermarket bakery again. Make this bread and you will have instant friends. Make this bread and you may even get a marriage proposal. It’s that good.

I have altered the original recipe to include more salt, since I thought Lahey’s version was a little bland in flavor. I always use King Arthur bread flour. The first time I made it, I used ordinary flour, and it wasn’t as good. Below are the ingredients for one loaf. After having made this recipe countless times, I now double the recipe and make two loaves at the same time, using two pots. The secret, as you’ll read, is in the technique. You need a good sturdy pot with a lid that can go into the oven, like a Le Creuset dutch oven pot. It doesn’t have to be cast iron or enameled cast-iron though. Even a heavy steel or aluminum pot will do. When I make it, I use one small, enameled cast-iron pot (in the photo) and one heavy aluminum pot that’s much larger and more squat. As a result, I get one small loaf that has a rounder shape, and one large loaf that is more spread out in size.

Enough explanation, here’s the recipe:

3 cups flour
1/4 tsp. instant yeast (yes, that’s right only 1/4 tsp.)
2 tsp. salt
1 5/8 cups water, or more as needed
cornmeal, as needed

1. In a large bowl, place the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon. It may need more water, depending on the humidity in the air that day. When I first made this recipe, I followed the recipe and used ordinary flour and the dough was very loose and impossible to work with – kind of shaggy. Now that I use bread flour, it is always a stiffer dough, and I find I have to add more water than the 1 5/8 cups. I add just enough water to make a dough that looks like it wouldn’t hold together into a ball if made outside the bowl, but not so loose that it looks like a batter. Each time you make it, you’ll get a better feel for what it should look like. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap
2. Go and solve the world’s problems (or play scrabble or go to sleep) while you let this rise a minimum of 12 hours to a maximum of 18-20 hours. After that time, remove the plastic wrap, and the dough should look like it’s dotted with little bubbles. Flour your hands as well as your work surface, and turn the dough onto the board, folding it over on itself. Let it rest for about 15 minutes.
3.Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your work surface or fingers, shape it into a ball shape and place it on half of a linen or cotton towel (not terrycloth) that has been sprinkled with cornmeal. You can use flour if you like instead. Sprinkle the top with more cornmeal or flour and cover with the other half of the towel. Let it rise another two hours.
4. Before the two hours are up, heat your oven to 450 degrees and place your pot or dutch oven inside. Let it heat with the lid on, for 1/2 hour. Carefully remove the pot from the oven, and remove the lid. Slide your hand under the dishtowel and pick up the dough, letting any extra cornmeal fall into the sink or onto the counter top. Turn the dough upside down into the pot. Don’t worry if it’s not centered or looks a mess, or seems to have deflated. When it’s fully cooked, it seems as if magic has taken place inside the pot and you will have bread that looks professionally baked.
5. Put the lid back on the pot and cook for 1/2 hour. After that time, remove the lid and bake for another 1/2 hour.
6. Remove from the oven. At this point, an intoxicating smell will have permeated your house and it will be hard to resist cutting into the bread. Try. Try hard. The sound of the crackling of the crust will begin while it’s resting and continue for five minutes or so. It’s also much easier to cut after it’s cooled a bit. Cut into the bread while it’s warm, savor the goodness and graciously accept the kudos from all your friends and family. And ponder that marriage proposal.

This is some of the bread in my husband’s cousin’s bakery in Scerni, Italy (region of Abruzzo). Not round, but just as wonderful.