If you want bread that is a little more substantial than focaccia, then try ciabatta. Ciabatta was created in a collaboration between Francesco Favaron, a Verona baker, and Arnaldo Cavallari, the owner of a large flour mill in Polesine, in northeastern Italy, in 1982. These gentlemen felt it necessary to create a sandwich bread alternative to French baguettes, which had become a threat to the baking business in Italy.
That is Signor Cavallari, above; a man who seems to enjoy his work.
My version of ciabatta is of the no-knead variety. A short-cut that probably would not meet the approval of Signor Cavallari. As with other no-knead bread recipes, a little planning is required. The bread dough has to rise about 18 hours, so for a Saturday dinner party, the process has to start mid-day Friday.
Take 3 and 1/2 cups white bread flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat bread flour and mix in a large bowl with 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast and 2 teaspoons of salt. Then add a tablespoon of oregano, half a tablespoon each of basil and thyme. Mix all the ingredients well before adding 2 cups of barely warm water. Mix the mess with a fork. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and the lid of the bowl (if the bowl comes with a lid.) Keep at room temperature for 18 hours.
Spray a cutting board with water and then cover the surface with plastic wrap, then sprinkle the plastic wrap with flour. Pour the dough onto the wrap and press it to form a rough rectangle. Separately, lightly oil a sheet pan, and cover the surface with corn meal. Take the dough and flip it over onto the sheet pan, and then sprinkle the dough with more flour. Cover with a non-terry towel and let it rise for at least 2 hours.
Heat your oven to 425 degrees F. Put the sheet pan in the oven (after taking the towel off – ha!) for 25 minutes. Pull the bread from the oven and lightly cover the surface with olive oil and a little salt. Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool and cut into it. Great as is, with butter or tapenade; or for sandwiches; and as toast the next day … Buon Appetito!