“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself” Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803 – 1882
I had one job to do every day, on holiday in Italy, and that was to go and buy the bread, il pane. Nonna Maria would take out her purse, which she had smuggled into the side of her bra, and hand me a mille lire. On entering the bakers, the warmth from the furnace oven hit me and so did the wonderful smell. Oh, the delight at smelling freshly made bread! The large round bread would be wrapped in brown paper and exchanged for the crumpled note.
As compensation for my troubles, Nonna allowed me to nibble at the bread during my journey home. There is no greater nor simpler pleasure in life than soft, freshly baked bread. This recipe for ciabatta bread is perfect. I recommend you break off a piece as soon as you get it out of the oven. Enjoy!
Makes 4 loaves
510g (1lb 2oz) strong white bread flour * ½tsp salt * 15g (½oz) instant yeast * 40ml (1½oz) olive oil * 395ml (14oz) tepid water
Lightly oil a 2-3 litre square plastic container. Put the flour, salt and yeast into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. (Keep the salt and yeast separate). Add the olive oil and three-quarters of the water and begin mixing at a slow speed. As the dough starts to come together, slowly add the remaining water. Then mix for a further 5-8 minutes on a medium speed until the dough is smooth and stretchy. Tip the dough into the prepared tub and cover with an oiled sheet of cling film, then with a tea towel. Put the tub into an airing cupboard or somewhere warm that is draught free. Leave for 1-2 hours until it has doubled in size.
Heat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7 and line 2 baking trays with baking parchment paper. Dust the work surface with flour. Tip the dough onto the work surface – it will be very wet. Handle it gently and don’t knock it back – you want to keep the air bubbles. Cut the dough into quarters. Stretch each piece lengthways and place on the prepared baking trays. Leave the ciabatta dough to rest for a further 10 minutes, then bake for 25 minutes or until the loaves are golden brown. The loaves should sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
I have collated all my favourite recipes into one book FOOD FOR ALL OCCASIONS.
This recipe comes from the section THE ITALIAN JOB, a selection of authentic Italian recipes.