I so rarely buy bread now. Except for some very special bread I might come across, and of course sourdough. And more recently the Afghan shop nearby has begun making their own flatbread. It’s just that we don’t eat bread much any more. Just occasionally we love to make our own. We don’t do it every week, mind you, although there have been times in my life where I have made bread several times per week – we had a rhythm going, and it was easy a log as we kept to the rhythm. The kids were younger then, and it was a good way to feed their constantly empty stomachs. Mind you, I am no baker. A little too conceptual and impatient for that, but nevertheless we love this bread. I hope that you enjoy it.
Are you looking for other breads? We don’t have many. Try Olive Oil Bread with Parsley and Dill, No Knead Focaccia, Schiacciata and Rosemary Focaccia. And we have some Toasties – try Pan Fried Toasties with Fontina, Paneer Toasties and Potato and Pea Stuffed Toasted Sandwiches.
But we do have Italian recipes. Try Marinated Zucchini and Tomato, Roasted Pepper Salad with Mozarella and White Beans, and Puy Lentil Soup.
The bread is baked in the pre-dawn hours in a variety of forms that adapt themselves to every need: the cazzottino (‘a small fist”) is for breakfasts and snacks, perfect with a few slices of Pratese mortadella; the filone seems made to be sliced and slathered with flavorful marmalades, or drizzled in local olive oil and sprinkled with salt — the pan con l’olio used for snacks for kids and just about anyone else – or to make the traditional fettunta (toasted, rubbed with garlic and seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper) reserved for the dinner table. But the best is the bozza, which goes well with everything and when it is stale and hard as a rock, it becomes the prime ingredient for panzanella, ribollita, pappa al pomodoro and other tasty dishes.
This recipe is an oldie but a goodie. It is a wonderful, beautiful flavoured, light textured but crusty bread. The basis of the recipe is from Giuliano Bugialli. This is a Tuscan bread from Prato, famous for their saltless breads that need to be eaten quickly otherwise they go quite hard – but still good for toast and the freshest of butters, and for using in the Italian dishes such as ribollita.
Pane di Prato is quite ancient, from around the 16th Century, and is said to have been created because salt was taxed highly, the import of salt was blocked around that time, or because the price of salt was too high during the wide spread poverty of that time.
There are many in the region who will not eat any other bread. It is definitely not a bread for eating on its own. It is a quiet taste, being saltless, so is a perfect accompaniment to spicy sauced dishes, salty butter, tangy marmalade, grassy olive oil.
While the bread is usually made with a plain baker’s flour, I have also made the bread, used an organic multi-grain flour. Watch that the flour that you use is salt-free if you are looking for the traditional Tuscan bread.
Pane di Prato | Bread from Prato in Tuscany
Makes 1 small loaf. Double the recipe for 2 loaves. The bread is not a high-rise bread.
1 cup bakers flour
4 tspn dry yeast
0.5 cups tepid water
2.5 cup bakers flour
up to 1 cup tepid water
Starter: Put the flour for the starter sponge in a large bowl and make a well in it. Dissolve the yeast in the water and pour into the well and mix with a wooden spoon or by hand, incorporating the flour to make a thick batter. Cover with a towel and let rest in a warm, draft free place for up to 12 hours. The sponge can be made in the morning or night before and cooked late afternoon or the next morning.
The dough: Add the tepid water to the sponge, a little at a time, stirring continuously. Then add the salt (if using) and 2 cups of the flour, a little at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon. Let it rest for 30 mins.
Begin to heat the oven to 200C and the pot (see below).
Spread out the remaining flour and put the risen dough on to it. Knead the dough, incorporating more flour. Shape the dough as you wish, wrap in a cotton kitchen towel and rest for 15 – 30 minutes.
To cook: Preheat the oven to 200C. Find a pot that is oven proof and is more than large enough to hold the dough. A dutch oven is good. If it hasn’t a lid, fashion one out of alfoil. Preheat the pot in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes.
Place the dough into your preheated pot, cover and bake for 20 – 30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to bake for around 30 more minutes or until browned and cooked.
There are a couple of alternatives. Place unglazed terracotta tiles on the bottom shelf of the oven and heat for 30 mins or so. Place t.he dough directly on the tiles. Or simply place the dough onto an oven tray. Bake for for 45 – 60 minutes until cooked.
Cool (if you can be patient) on a rack. HOWEVER there is nothing like warm bread with home made jam, or just with butter, or with the Provolone left over from last night’s Semolina Pasta.