meatless monday: stecca
Usually I wouldn’t consider bread to be a sufficient MM offering, because…well, because man cannot live by bread alone. As much as I love bread, and love baking it, it’s always felt like a side dish. When I started out to make Stecca, an olive-oil brushed, salt-sprinkled loaf from Jim Lahey (of My Bread), I thought it was going to be an accompaniment to the dinner I had planned for Little Bit and me.
But by the time we had pressed tomatoes, garlic and olives into the loaves, I was beginning to have my doubts about its side-dish status. And once the kitchen began to smell of crisping bread and roasted garlic, I forgot all about my extended dinner plans.
When it emerged from the oven, my mental picture of ambrosia of the gods was officially altered. The two of us polished off half a loaf within five minutes.
4 thin loaves
3 cups bread flour (I used unbleached white)
1/2 tsp table salt
3/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cool (55-65 degrees F) water
additional flour for dusting
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp coarse sea salt
for each loaf, you will need either:
10 cherry tomato halves, 10 thin slices of garlic, fresh thyme leaves or
10 large pitted olives or
10 slightly crushed garlic cloves
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, table salt, sugar and yeast. Add the water, and using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Covered the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.
When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough our of the bowl in one piece. Fold the dough over itself two or three times and gently shape it into a somewhat flattened ball. Brush the surface of the dough with some of the olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp of the coarse salt (which will gradually dissolve on the surface.
Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F, with a rack in the center. Oil a 13 x 8 x1 inch baking sheet.
Cut the dough into quarters. Gently stretch each piece evenly into a stick shape approximately the length of the pan. Place on the pan, leaving at least 1 inch between the loaves. For tomato stecca, push the halves evenly into the dough and top with a garlic slice a few thyme leaves. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. For olive stecca, push the olives evenly into the dough and brush with olive oil. No salt is needed because the olives are so salty. For garlic stecca, push garlic cloves evenly into the dough and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Cool on the pan for 5 minutes and then transfer stecca to a rack to cool thoroughly.
Note: the stecca may become slightly soggy in a few hours because of the salt on the surface. If that happens, reheat in a hot oven until crisp.
If you aren’t looking forward to working off a dinner of solid carbohydrates like I had to, you could be sensible and serve this with a big salad and a bowl of soup. But sometimes, with some special foods, sensible just isn’t the right way to go.