Over a month into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s astounding how many people have taken to baking their own bread and it’s still nigh on impossible to buy bread flour or yeast. I’ve been lucky to be able to source fresh yeast and flour from my local Italian deli, Corto, but this gives me Italian ’00’ flour or semola, not ‘strong bread flour’. The Italian flours are commonly used for pasta making but sometimes bread too. I’ve been successfully making focaccia with it; a recipe I’ve used for many years but generally only brought out at party time when it’s fun to have some homemade focaccia on the table for people to take slices.
Much as I enjoy focaccia and have found it freezes well in slices so I can take one from the freezer for lunch, there’s only so much focaccia one wants to eat. Especially when in normal times it’s mostly a nice sourdough loaf I eat. So what could I do that was a bit different? In Gino D’Acampo’s Hidden Italy I found a recipe for Ligurian Potato Bread. I’ve seen potato bread on the deli counter in my local Waitrose and been tempted to try it – though never have. But this encouraged me to think that Gino’s recipe was worth a try. I’d have to substitute his ‘strong white’ bread flour with some semola (otherwise known as durum wheat flour/double milled semolina) but then ‘semola’ is Italian … so it would work for some Italian bread … wouldn’t it?
Fortunately it did. And very well!
Ligurian Potato Bread
- 250g floury potatoes
- 350g semola (or strong white bread flour)
- 100g wholemeal flour
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 30g butter, melted
- 15g fresh yeast (or 7g dried – follow packet instructions)
- 150ml warm water
- extra virgin olive oil for greasing and brushing
First of all cook the potato. Peel and quarter the potato and cook in salted water until tender. Mash well or, even better, if you have a potato ricer use that. Leave it to cool.
Now measure out the flours into a large bowl and add the thyme, salt and melted butter.
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, whisking to break it up, and add to the flour mixture with the mashed potato.
Mix it well with a wooden spoon and when it comes together, gather it into a ball and knead for about 10 minutes until springy. You can test springy-ness by gently pushing a finger a little way into the dough and if the dent springs back, your dough is ready.
Put the ball of dough into a greased bowl and cover with a tea cloth or clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm – but not hot – place for 1-1½ hours, or until doubled in size.
Knock back and knead just a little more and then form the dough into an oval shape. Lay on a baking sheet lightly greased with olive oil. Cover loosely with a tea towel or lightly oiled clingfilm. Leave for a further 40-50 minutes or until doubled in size. Preheat your oven to 220C/Fan 200/Gas 7.
Cut diamond shapes across the top with a sharp knife. Brush a little olive oil over the top. Scatter just a little wholemeal flour over it.
Put into the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes, until nicely browned. Check for doneness by lifting the bread up to tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow, then it’s done (take care as the bread will be very hot!).
Leave to cool on a rack.
According to Gino, the bread was traditionally made in mountain areas where baking was done less often and the potato flour lasted better and remained soft. It would, of course, also be quite nutritious. It’s been associated with poverty in the past and in the mid-1960s the Italian government even banned it being made commercially because of this. But in recent years cucina povera – cooking of the poor – has become very popular and even fashionable, so now it’s making a bit of a comeback.
I was really pleased with the way my bread turned out. It’s quite a soft bread in texture, but light, and has a definite potato flavour. My son thought it quite like focaccia, so perhaps I hadn’t moved so very far from my recent standard bread! But it is different, slices nicely and I made a good sandwich from it for lunch. It’s a bread that’s easily made and even the novice bread baker can expect good results.