There’s nothing I like better than slicing into a great big freshly cooked ciabatta and creating a great big dagwood sandwich before stuffing it into my great big mouth. With protruding cheeks stuffed with this Italian slipper bread, I mumble thanks to the guy who made this happen, Arnaldo Cavallari.
In 1982, Arnaldo retired from car racing to work at his family’s flour mill in Adria, in the Veneto. He probably wasn’t the first to start making ciabatta. Similar breads are made around Lake Como (ciabatta di como) but Arnaldo was the first to set up the methodology and authentication of the Ciabatta Italia.
Smaller ciabatta for sale.
Traditional ciabatta is made with tipo 1 italia, a soft flour. This flour is like a strong all-purpose flour or American bread flour, but a tad darker and a bit less refined than the famous “tipo 00″ flour used for authentic Italian wood- fired pizza. The protein content of tipo 1 is 10 percent.
My “scaletta” or ladder sticks made with ciabatta dough and baked with pressed green and black Cerignola olives
These days there are (so-called) ciabatta everywhere. The grocery store has small hockey pucks that taste of chalk and chemicals (watch out for that “TBHQ added for freshness”*) but these can easily pass through the gullet with a bucket of water. I’ve even had “Eye-talian” slipper bread in West Virginia that was used to make “house special” garlic bread. Unfortunately, the shape and the way it was cut belied the fact that it was just a hot dog bun.
Making ciabatta is great fun and most rewarding. After 4 days nurturing starters, old dough pre-ferments, a poolish, then mixing the heavily-hydrated mass perfectly, performing due-dillegence in proofing, (rising) and standing by my Impinger pizza ovens, spritzing, peeking and turning, the final product is amazing. Making and cooking ciabatta is like having a kid…that you can eat. Sometimes I vary the way I cook this dough and make variations on the ciabatta theme. Below are two more examples.
Mr. Stipey, Manchego and nettle pizzas (left). Small schiacciata (right); Romagna (above) and local aged cheddar (below)
Sometimes making caprese sandwiches is like laying railroad tracks.
It’s usually 6 a.m. when I finish the ciabatta. The sun is starting to peek through my pizzeria window and Garrison Keeler is performing “Guy Noir- Private Detective” on the radio. I can cook 5 ciabatta at a time. I usually eye one that I save just for me. After slicing some room temperature Brie, Genoa salami, prosciutto di Parma, arugula and fresh tomato, I am in heaven.
If you want my recipe for ciabatta, just send $1000 dollars (Canadian) to me. Or if you want a really great recipe, just go to Peter Reinhart’s blog.
*TBHQ is a by product of butane. It is banned in Europe and Japan because of its proven relationship with ADHD and hyperactivity in children. Its use has grown since large food corporations have stopped using trans-fats in their foods. This means that they have to use real oils instead. To store these oils in massive quantities, they spike them with TBHQ. Unfortunately for us, because of lobbying efforts by large corporations, if a chemical is less than 5% of the product, the food companies do not have to put it on the label.
I’m so excited about this pizza and can’t help feeling like Dr. Frankenstein. I wanted to scream, “It’s aliiiiive,” just like Gene Wilder when this Pizza Margherita came out of the oven. Like when I see a crispy baguette or ciabatta finishing it’s bake in golden brown splender; it’s that feeling of triumphant finality that I made something from nothing, that I didn’t screw it up (again) and all the planning, hard work and patience paid off in spades.
Spelt bundled in a Chesterhill, Ohio field and Neal Cherry’s stellar grapes make the beginning of a great pizza.
I did this pizza because I’ve received numerous questions about using a naturally obtained yeast in a pizza crust recipe. Some people refer to a “Yeastless Pizza Recipe” but that really isn’t true because yeast is everywhere. It’s one of the oldest known cultivated organisms and has been found by archeologists in 4000 year old egyptian bakeries.(Now that’s “Old School!”)
To create this pizza, I must first capture wild yeast and ferment it with 3 things, a warm environment, flour and water. The yeasts will multiply producing carbon dioxide, lactic acid and alcohol which will in turn change the texture and flavor of the dough. The gas raises the dough while the lactic acid adds the flavor. Capturing the gas in cells which can be seen in bread and pizza dough depends upon “The Gluten Net” that is formed by the strength of the flour.
So, this process of creation is fairly easy if you’ve got the time, temperature, yeast and flour.
This starter or “Levain” (the French call it), is also called “Chef” or “Mother.” Any bread or pizza crust really does taste more complex, nutty, malty and buttery than straight commercially raised yeasted dough. It does though take time and patience to complete the baking cyle. But the reward is the knowledge that you made a natural product using the air, earth, water of this planet. How’s that for sustainability?
Most bakers use this starter and fortify it with commercially raised yeast but for this recipe, we are gonna take it to the limit, with only wild yeast!
Right now I just want to show you a way to capture yeast from nature, encourage the yeast to grow and produce bubbles of gas and make a great pizza with it. This is what it entails.
Finding wild yeast: Raisons, Apples, Plums, Peaches, Nectarines, Grapes, and even vegetables offer a landing zone for wild yeasts. You will find alot of wild yeast just cruisin’ around the air but these fruit and vegetables are best at capturing as much yeast as will need to facilitate a rise out of your pizza dough. Remember, the acid in certain vegetables may kill the yeast.
Getting the yeast to activate: We will use the simple method of just putting the yeasted fruit in warm, uncontaminated tap water for a period of 3 to 4 days. Don’t be stupid and use modified bottled water thinking it to be more “pure.” We are reveling in nature here, using an organic micro-environment for out pizza benefit! Bottled water sucks.
Adding the flour to the yeasted water: We will work to slowly bring the yeast to life by offering it natural proteins and sugars to feed on. Please don’t use bleached flour, organic is better and half whole wheat will add to the flavor.
Patience is indeed a virtue: We will wait on natures time to witness our harnessing of the miracle of fermentation. (Hopefully while drinking a beer, which contains yeast also.)
Don’t worry if you stray off course a little: If you put too much water or flour in the recipe, don’t worry, I won’t tell. It’s all a learning experience. Just make sure you label stuff or you will find yourself screaming “Who threw my starter awayyyyyy!”
Use this starter forever: If you follow a simple plan of feeding and retarding your starter, you can keep it forever. My freind Matt Rapposelli has a starter that is almost 20 years old. Cool!
For the yeast capture:
Here the goon starts the warm water bath for the grapes. How many did he eat after this video? About 20,(the pig)
Start with about 3 to 4 cups local organic grapes (seeded or not) obtained from the wild or a grape grower that doesn’t spray chemicals on the fruit. Other fruit will suffice but I’ve found that the spherical nature of each grape seems to capture more wild yeast floating through the air than other fruits. (DO NOT WASH THE GRAPES)
Put the grapes in 3 cups of spring water. Squeeze some grapes in the water to offer the yeast sugars to eat. Leave using cheesecloth and a rubber band for 4 days. Stir each day. In the end, the mixture will smell like wine or a combination of weak balsamic vinegar and wine.
These are the grapes after 4 days.
Strain the mix, disgard the grapes. Keep the cheesecloth. Always leave the grape water out on the counter, not in the fridge.
For the Starter:
In a bowl, put 1 cup organic, unbleached bread flour (it has more protein than all purpose), 1 cup organic, whole wheat or spelt, half a cup grape-water mixture. Mix well and pour into a small container with the cheesecloth or a damp towel (the towel will be better for eliminating crust forming). Stir this mix every hour if you have the time, you will see it increasing in bulk and bubbles.
The first day of feeding:
Take the day-old flour and grape water combination, (it should be starting to bubble) and mix it and 1 cup bread flour and 1/2 cup of the grape water in a bowl. Stir, leave in the bowl or transfer to a clean container,cover and leave for 24 hours stirring every couple hours.
Second day of feeding:
Wow! The mixture will start to tell you that it is activating by the smell of fermentation and by the bubbles. I used plastic wrap because of all the yeast flying around my store, but you can use a wet rag or cheesecloth.
Repeat the same mix and measurements. Transfer to a clean container. After another 24 hours, this is what you will have. An active pre-ferment made by wild yeast.
Store this starter in the fridge in a covered container.
Feed your starter regularly, about 2 times a week. To feed it, take out one-third of the saved starter to add room and just add one cup of flour and enough water and stir well enough to make a thick sticky paste. Leave this at room temperature for 4 hours. Put it back in the fridge. If making a pizza or bread, always feed the starter about 12 to 24 hours out and leave it at room tempererat wiure.
If you forget to feed it, take it out of the fridge and coax it back to life by mixing flour and water into it. You can add a little beer to give it a kick, or a raison or two.
Please forgive me as my Three year-old has a fever tonight. Tomorrow, I will show you how I made the dough with this starter using no other yeast and the subsequent pizza.