Italy is a nation of bread lovers. Each region is home to dozens of varied and mouth-watering recipes, many rooted deeply in Italian culinary tradition. You will probably be familiar with such Italian staples as focaccia bread, paninis and bruschetta from restaurants and supermarket aisles here in the UK. To delve deeper into the world of Italian bread, we recommend a professional master class such as that offered by Borgo Egnazia at their Food Academy.
Borgo Egnazia is a stunning retreat in southern Italy with some of the most talented chefs in the area. Their ‘Nowhere Else Academies’ can teach you to prepare a range of delectable Apulian dishes, combined with wine tasting, catching and cooking fish, baking and a whole lot more.
For a taste of what is in store for you at one of these academies, take a look at the following recipe, for Apulian Black Olive Puccia Bread. Puccia, in case you were wondering, is the Italian word for ‘little cheek’, which apparently these bread rolls look like.
You will need:
- About 500g high quality white bread flour
- 200-300 ml lukewarm water
- A sachet of dried baker’s yeast.
- Chopped black olives and rosemary sprigs
- Olive oil
- Flaked sea salt
- A small bowl of ‘biga’, which is like a sour-dough starter made overnight.
What to do
You start by making the biga. Add a packet of yeast to a bowl of approximately 100 ml of lukewarm water. Stir in a teaspoon of sugar, cover with a tea towel and leave the bowl in a warm place for 15-20 minutes, or until the yeast activates. When the mixture is frothy and has a characteristic ‘yeasty’ smell, gradually stir in 50g bread flour. The biga should be thoroughly mixed and have an even consistency. Next, cover the bowl with clingfilm and place it in the fridge for 12-17 hours, or overnight. When you come back to it in the morning, the contents should be raised and spongy, with a distinct sour aroma. This means it is ready to use.
Now to make the bread itself
Sieve the bread flour into a mixing bowl and gradually add 200 ml of warm water. Stir the mixture with a spoon until it forms a dough. It should be strong but still fairly sticky at this stage. You might need to add a little bit more water for consistency. Now add the biga and mix it all together. You will now want to form a stiff dough that is firm enough to knead by hand, so a little more flour or water might be needed.
When the biga is fully blended in with the dough, knead by hand for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough is pliable and soft. Cover loosely and leave in a warm place for one to two hours, or until doubled in size.
When the dough is ready, flatten it down onto a lightly floured surface and divide into eight evenly shaped segments. Roll each segment in turn into a ball between your hands and flatten it down into a circular disk. Next, spoon an even quantity of chopped olives and rosemary onto each round, and fold it over itself until the mixture is thoroughly incorporated into the dough. Allow to rise for another 10-15 minutes until they have swollen into little buns, while you pre-heat an oven to 180 degrees /gas mark 4.
Sprinkle a little sea salt on each bun before placing it in the oven, cooking until each bun is nicely browned – about 15-20 minutes.
These Puccia are delicious when served with salad olives and other antipasti, and also make a great accompaniment to Italian meat dishes.