This recipe is a modification of a recipe by Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery, NYC, which appeared in the NYTimes in November 2006.
Anyone who has lived in or traveled to Italy or southern France has experienced the wonderful bread which is the staple of the people of the countryside. It is crusty and crunchy on the surface, and the interior has large holes, is translucent and yellowish, and is chewy. It is a bread that makes you know you are eating real food! During a sabbatical in a rural neighborhood near Naples, Italy (on Via Romano), this bread was not only the staple in the local bakery, but also baked by our friend Louisa in the outdoor wood-fired brick oven of the extended family with which we lived.
This is our personal experience with “Peasant Bread:” Pane Rustico. For us, the name is deceptively modest. In fact, this bread is worthy of wonder and respect, for making it is a practical art evolved from many centuries by people who have lived close to the earth, and developed extraordinary culinary skills.
The following recipe comes as close to replicating this marvelous bread as any we have found (after a 15 year search!). Try it first with while flour (as below), then try the Whole Wheat/White Flour version. The whole wheat version is nearly as light and crunchy, but also bears some of the vitamins, quality protein, and roughage removed from while flour products.
3 cups white enriched flour
1 1/2 cups fresh water, warmed to 90 F
1 tsp Kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon active yeast
cornflour or additional flour for dusting dough and cloth
1 gallon pot or mixing bowl with cover
measuring cups (one pint and one quart)
measuring spoons (1/4 and 1 teaspoons)
dish towel, non-terry cloth
heavy 1-2 gallon covered cast iron pot (Dutch oven)