What follows is a bit of a foodie cliche, including invoking that insufferable f-word. Every time I turn around this month Mark Bittman, whom I obviously find knowledgeable and amusing, is on TV fondling a few, ripe heirloom tomatoes. And with good reason. ‘Tis the season! Right now’s tomatoes are super crazy good fantastic. I come home with a basketful almost every day and can’t get enough. But enough now. I get it. You get it. Stop laying it on so thick, locasnores. August is for tomato lovers, all of us can agree.
So, I had some sumptuous, nubile, busty tomatoes laying around, and I needed a new way to ravish them. That’s when I recalled the no-knead bread that made the internet rounds a few years ago, and which sustained us when we simply could not stomach another taco during our waning days in Mexico. I’d turn up the air conditioning and set the oven to a scalding 450.
One of the many wonders of August in Maine is that the temperature is delicious, 72 and breezy. Cranking up the oven isn’t so much a problem here, so last night around nine, I began the process of mixing, waiting, and watching as a sort of goopy dough, twenty hours later becomes a risen golden bread. Earlier today, I cubed two huge tomatoes, grated two cloves of garlic, chiffonaded eight leaves of basil, combined with salt and olive oil and set on the counter to marinate while the dough did its thing
We can find amazing artisanal bread all over town. We love the loaves at The Standard Baking Company, but Whole Foods and even Hannaford has good stuff compared with what was available in Yucatan (understandably). So why bother baking this bread? It’s simple. Because there’s something so basic and compelling about yeast, flour, salt and water. It smells good, feels good and is so satisfying to behold. Baking this bread provides a sense of pride in accomplishment, especially if it’s the only really good thing you’ve done all day.
For dinner tonight, I sliced the just-cooled bread and grilled it quickly in garlic-infused olive oil, in a saute pan on the stove. I topped the slices with the tomato/basil/garlic/olive oil mixture and drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar. Served with a Vinho Verde Rose outside on the patio. So incredibly simple and divine.
No-Knead Dutch Oven Bread
Adapted from a recipe in the New York Times
- 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
- 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest 18 hours, at warm room temperature.
- Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
- Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
- At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy cast iron covered pot in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.