Occasionally, here in Sardinia, the supply of focaccia and the local ‘music sheet’ bread dries up and only rather uninteresting rolls remain.
A solution, then, is to make your own bread, but the concept of kneading is against my principles, so a quick solution is soda bread. At Christmas we make a wholemeal, seeded variety to go with smoked salmon. But that seems a bit heavy for Italy in the spring. Something using the local ingredients – pecorino cheese, tomatoes, basil – seems to be more the thing, and the best recipe I could find for tomato bread is in Claire Thompson’s excellent specialist book, Tomato.
I’ve adapted it (as Thompson encourages her readers to do) and I continue to change the ingredients to suit the season and the place (in Switzerland I would use Gruyère; in England maybe Lincolnshire Poacher). Tomatoes are only just coming into season here. A month or two ago I might have substituted the fresh tomato with black or green olives… or capers maybe. If I didn’t have basil, I would try the chives that Thompson favours… or perhaps some thyme, or sage. In the depths of winter I might use dried oregano, or nigella seeds.
You can get ahead by mixing the dry ingredients well ahead of time, and keeping them in a jar.
It warms up quite well the following day, briefly, in a hot oven – you really only want to crispen up the crust and warm the interior. Alternatively, wrap in clingfilm and keep out of the fridge for a couple of days. Then slice and fry on a griddle.
Mediterranean Soda Bread
Serves – 4
- 375g/2⅓ cups plain flour, plus a little more to flour the surface
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp salt
- A generous pinch of Urfa pepper flakes, or twelve or so grinds of black pepper, or crush three or four Indonesian long peppercorns in a pestle and mortar.
- 80g/⅔ cup grated hard cheese (nb, NOT super-hard cheese such as parmesan; pecorino, Gruyère, or cheddar all work well)
- Handful of herbs – basil, thyme, chives, sage would all work well. You could also use dried oregano. Or nigella seeds.
- 240 ml/1 cup plain, full-fat yoghurt
- 60 ml/¼ cup full-fat milk
- 1 tsp mustard
- 8 sundried tomatoes, ideally the type preserved in oil in jars. If you use the salted type make sure they are really well rinsed.
- 1 medium fresh tomato
- Preheat the oven to 210°C (use the Aga roasting oven if you have one).
- Grease a small rectangular roasting tin. Or you can use a silicon liner if you wish.
- Mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. That’s the: flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt, pepper flakes or pepper, and dried oregano or nigella seeds if using.
- In a smaller bowl mix together the cheese, yoghurt, milk, mustard, and fresh herbs (saving a few to snip over the baked loaf). Chop the sundried tomatoes finely, add those, and stir through.
- Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones to make a rough dough. If the dough is so dry you cannot include all the flour, add a couple of additional tbsps of milk. If you think you’ve overdone the milk, make sure your floured board has plenty of flour on it. Shape the loaf on a floured surface. Place in the roasting tin.
- Make three or four slashes in the surface of the dough.
- Core the tomato, and cut it into small shapes. Make stabs in the dough, and push the tomato slices into the stabs.
- Bake for 35 minutes, until deep golden. Keep warm, and serve, snipping over any remaining herbs.