I love Italian bread. It's a fact. I think what I love the most is the simplicity that leads to sophistication that I find in the best Italian breads. For example, the most popular breads have only four ingredients: flour, water yeast and salt. There are some Tuscan breads that even leave out the salt, depending on the thick stew served with the bread to provide the flavor when you sop it up. How simple is that? So... where does the flavor come from? From the rise, which, if you do it right, should be slow and at cool temperatures. Like in the fridge.
This bread is a variation of a peasant loaf that comes from Calabria in Southern Italy. There, they like food spicy and the tomatoes are firm and packed with flavor. The combination of a slow-rising dough, with tomatoes and red onions and just a pinch of red pepper flakes makes for a bread that is strong on character and perfect for smoked meats and cheeses. Or just toasted with butter or some other spread like humus, mustard (under the toppings) or a good quality mayonnaise (ditto).
Here's What You'll Need: (for 1 large loaf)
3 1/2 tsp. dry yeast
2/3 (167 ml)cups warm water
4 cups (560 g) bread flour
2 tsp. salt
1 lb (450 g) ripe tomatoes
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 red onions, finely sliced
3 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Here's What You'll Need To Do:
1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and set aside to activate, about 10 minutes.
2. Mix the flour and salt in a separate large bowl, make a well in the center and add in the dissolved yeast. Mix in just enough flour from the sides to make a slurry, then cover and let it rest to create a 'sponge' for about an hour.
3. In the meantime, peel the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Chop just the flesh of the tomatoes roughly and set aside. Peel and finely slice the onions.
4. Heat the olive oil in a pan then add the onions and oregano and pepper flakes. Finally, add the tomatoes and saute gently, covered for about 10 minutes. This will allow the juices to come out of the tomatoes and create a thick sauce. Cool this mixture completely before continuing.
5. Stir the tomato mixture into the sponge, and mix thoroughly to make a soft slightly sticky dough. The tomatoes are wet, and you may need to add a little flour to keep the dough manageable, i.e., only slightly sticky.
6. Knead for a few minutes to bring it together and evenly distribute the tomato mixture, then form it into a ball and place it in a lightly-oiled bowl (turn to coat) and cover to let it rise. Let it double in volume. This will take about 2 hours. If you want to greatly improve the flavor, you can place the dough in the refrigerator overnight like I did. Amazing!
7. If you placed to dough in the refrigerator, remove it, and, leaving it covered, let it come to room temperature, about 2 hours. 'Knock down' the dough, and form it into a tight boule. Place it on a baking sheet covered with baking paper, covered with a kitchen towel to rise again, about 1 hour.
8. Bake in a pre-heated oven (350 F; 180 C) for about 45 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack completely before slicing.