I’m assuming that as a well-seasoned traveller and committed gastronome, you’ve been to Rome. Please forgive me if this is not the case but play along anyway. It’ll be fun. Promise.
My first time was about five years ago. Just me and my Dad exploring the Italian capital and imbibing Peroni, pasta, pizza and football in equal measure.
But the best meal we ate was a hastily bought picnic of bread, cheese, tomatoes and cured ham eaten on the steps of a backstreet church close to the Campo de’Fiori. A couple of chilled beers completed the feast nicely.
Campo de’Fiori, the city’s old flower market, is now home to a daily food market where visuals, smells and flavours meld together in luscious Technicolor with the intensity of a thousand ristretti.
Cafés and bars line the exterior of the diminutive square, encircling a generous selection of stalls around a central statue of Geordano Bruno, a 16th century philosopher who was executed as a heretic in 1600.
In the southwestern corner is a bakery from where smells waft over the square and jostle for prominence against the rich coffee scents coming from the various cafés. Their large rectangles of salted flatbread are a firm favourite with the city’s residents and we barely managed to secure ourselves a large slab when we were there.
But we did. And it was amazing – thinner than a focaccia, more substantial than a pizza base and tastier than pitta bread. Just something unique, special and incredibly tasty.
Since then I’ve been meaning to recreate this delicious bread, liberally drizzled with olive oil and a scattering of sea salt and this morning I finally got round to it.
The dough I now use is an amended version of Jeff Herzberg and Zoe Francois’ Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day.
Initially I really struggled with getting the consistency right (perhaps something to do with English measurements) but I’ve gradually made a few changes and now have something that bubbles away nicely in the fridge like a cartoon swamp.
The other change is that I treat it as a sourdough – whenever I take some of the dough out, I replace it with extra flour and water, give it a stir, cover it and leave it in the fridge.
Firstly it means not having to make a master dough every few days and secondly it means you start to get some real character in your loaves as it ages and becomes more complex.
For the flatbread just grab a handful of the dough and spread it out over a well-oiled tray using your fingers so that it covers the area. Brush the top with more oil and scatter with sea salt.
Bake in a hot (seriously hot – about 250 degrees) for ten minutes, or until the bread starts to brown.
It tastes best fresh from the oven and needs no adornments to aid the Italian experience.
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