There’s nothing like the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the house to create a warm and fuzzy feeling. Perhaps the only thing that beats it is that first bite of a slice of hot, freshly baked bread, crunchy on the outside, soft and steaming still on the inside, drizzled in some extra virgin olive oil.
Marco, my husband, is the baker in the house. Tuscans don’t know how to live without bread. If there’s no bread on the table the meal is not complete, so to make sure there’s always bread in the house he bakes his own. He makes his own piadina every morning for breakfast (yes, breakfast piadine! mmmm…) and prepares dough for filoncini (a baguette type loaf) or panini rolls before going to bed, leaving it all night to rise.
Lately, he’s been throwing black olives into the dough for pane alle olive, a delicious soft white bread where the olives seep a characteristically salty flavour into the dough. It’s a traditional bread from the southern tip of Puglia. A place where olive trees grow like nothing I’ve ever seen before – huge, twisted, gargantuan versions of the light, shimmery olive trees you see in Liguria or Tuscany. It’s a place where underground olive oil mills were built like subterranean cathedrals to escape the intense heat and where food is not to be taken lightly (both figuratively and physically).
It’s also a place where arguably the best-tasting bread in Italy is made, so it’s only natural that two of the region’s top products come together as one.
Pane alle olive, particularly when it’s homemade, comes in all shapes and sizes. You can find small, flat focaccia rounds studded with green or black olives, or long loaves so full of olives that they outweigh the dough. The little ones make a really nice snack when you just need something to tide you over.
Use the tastiest table olives you can find, black or green, wrinkled or smooth – just do not use the ones in a can of brine, already deseeded, that taste like plastic and not much else. Greek Kalamata olives and Ligurian Taggiasche olives (my personal favourite) are good examples of tasty table olives – salty, meaty and slightly sharp. You only need a handful of olives here you can deseed them yourself in a flash – just use the flat side of a large kitchen knife to squash the olives and pull the seeds out easily.
Pane alle Olive
- 500 grams of flour ‘00’
- 250 ml of lukewarm water
- 23 grams of fresh yeast or 7 grams of dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- a pinch of salt
- a handful or two (to your liking) of delicious whole olives, deseeded
Mix the yeast with a little bit of the flour and some of the water to activate the yeast (if it’s dry) or see if it’s still good (if fresh). When you see bubbles appear in the mixture, add the yeast to the rest of the flour and water a little bit at a time until it comes into a dough. Add the salt and olive oil.
Knead for about ten minutes then set the dough in a large bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place away from draughts for at least one hour.
Add the olives, mix through the dough and form into the desired shape (rolls, loaf or filoncino for example). Bake in a hot oven (200°C) for about 20 minutes if you are baking small rolls or filoncini, until golden brown.