The world gets smaller and smaller every day, and the expat world in Italy is no exception. We've met expats in Italy at the grocery, on the internet and through other expats. It's sort of like the seven degrees of separation: every one of our expat friends seems to be somehow connected to each other, and it's only a matter of time before we cross paths.
Our friend Kathy, who publishes DREAM OF ITALY, recently devoted an entire issue to Umbria. In this issue three fantastic villas are featured, one owned by our mutual friends Bill and Suzy Menard (you can read about their villa, La Fattoria del Gelso by clicking on the link). She also wrote about about two other beautiful vacation rentals, one between Perugia and Assisi called Le Vigne, and a third place not too far fromus,just outside of the tiny village (borgo?) of Piedicolle, Il Casale di Mele Rosse.
As I read about Il Casale di Mele Rosse and looked at the pictures I knew exactly where it was. I said to Art, "hey, remember those two identical houses that we watched being built just outside of Piedicolle - the houses that were built by the two best friends? " Of course he remembered, and then I told him that I thought this villa I was reading about was the same place.
After reading the site for Il Casale di Mele Rosse , I discovered a link to a blog called Italian Food Forever . It was written by Deborah Mele, who owns Il Casale de Mele Rosse along with her husband. Of course I couldn't resist reading the blog, and I found this great recipe for ciabatta! I have to admit that I did make a few changes: I used all all-purpose flour since I didn't have any bread flour. I guess I could buy bread flour from the bakery, but as I've writtne several times before, the flour here is a mystery to me, so I stick with flour "Americana", which is much more like American AP flour than the Italian "0" or "00". Those Italian flours just don't have enough gluten in them. In order to boost the AP flour I also added some vital gluten. Oh, and I have to confess that I didn't deflate the dough every 30 minutes during it's long rise - I might have deflated it 2 or 3 times. And I also added powdered nonfat milk in with the flour, in effect using milk instead of water. I think it helps the bread brown nicely.
Here's the recipe as I've written it out for my cookbook, but of course you can read Deborah's take on it on her blog, Italian Food Forever.
1 Recipe Biga (made the day before -Recipe Below)
3 Cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
2 tsp Salt
1 ½ Cups Warm Water (You can substitute milk or buttermilk for all or part of the water)
1/4 Teaspoon Active Dry Yeast
1 Cup Warm Water (About 110º F)
1 1/3 cups Bread Flour
2/3 cup Unbleached All-purpose Flour
Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a large bowl enough and let sit 5 to 10 minutes. Add the flours and stir to combine. The dough may seem stiff, but will soften up as it sits. Cover the biga tightly with plastic wrap, and let it sit for 6 hours at room temperature. Stir it, and refrigerate it until the next day, or at least 12 hours.
To Make The Bread
Combine the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Add the water and biga, and stir until the dough is mixed. It will be quite wet, and rough in texture. Turn the dough out onto a floured breadboard, and using as little flour as possible, knead for 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth. Keep the dough very loose and moist; it will firm up as it rises. Place the dough into a large greased bowl three times the size of the dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm spot for 2 - 3 hours, or until the dough has doubled, punching down and turning the dough every 30 minutes or so.
Divide the dough in two pieces and fold each into a rectangle. Stretch the rectangle until it is about 12 to 14 inches long. If you are using a baking stone, flour two kitchen towels, or bread peels with flour, and place the shaped loaves on them to rise. Cover loosely with towels. Preheat the oven (with stone) to 450º F. If using baking sheets, sprinkle them lightly with cornmeal. Place each prepared loaf onto a baking sheet, and cover lightly with a towel.
After 30-45 minutes, place the baking sheets into the hot oven, or move the loaves onto the hot baking stone. Place a pan of hot water at the bottom of the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the loaves once during this time, or until the dough is a dark golden brown all over. Remove and let cool on a wire rack.
We hope to meet Deborah and her husband sometime this summer, and I'll bet we share a few recipes when we get together!