I was a big fun of bread all along. Especially as a kid I was eating a lot of it. I used to eat it before, during, but also after the meal. Amazingly, I could not leave the table before eating at the very end a last piece of it. At those times I didn't know much about it. I knew that some kind of flour is used to make bread, but I had no idea about the origin and the several types of 'that flour'.
Later, I have learnt that bread in my country but also in the other south European countries is made mostly of wheat flour. The warm and sunny climate in the south favors the growth of a particular variety of wheat. That is “durum wheat” ("durum" in Latin means “hard”). As the word implies, durum is the hardest of all wheat species, and hence is more resistant to the milling process. This attribute allows the production of a more coarse type of flour that is called “semola” or “semolina”. Semola has a golden amber, sun-like colour and it contains coarsely ground endosperm particles. It is used mainly to make the dough for what is known as “Italian pasta”. When semola is ground again, gives rise to a more flour-like substance that is used mainly to make bread.
From a nutritional perspective, durum wheat is superior to normal wheat varieties. That is due to the fact that contains more proteins (12-14%) compared to normal wheat (10-11%). Additionally, durum has a higher number of phytonutrients that can help against several diseases. Among those, carotenoids are particular abundant in the endosperm of durum wheat, hence its golden colour.
A region in the south of Europe that is famous for the cultivation of high quality durum wheat is Puglia, located in the southeast of Italy. Particularly, in the city of Altamura (in the province of Bari), a bread made of 100% durum wheat flour in combination with sourdough fermentation gives rise to what is known as the "Altamura bread" (Pane di Altamura). This bread was granted in 2003 the DOP status, and by law must be produced according to strict rules that involve the use of certain local durum wheat varieties, water with specifications and also appropriate production techniques.
If you like to bake at home and come across at some point with durum wheat flour, take the chance and try to make this remarkable bread.
Pane di Altamura recipe (for ca. 1kg of final bread loaf)
500g Durum wheat flour
ca. 350gr water
ca. 100g sourdough biga
- Add the water into the sourdough biga and mix.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl that contains the flour and the salt.
- Mix initially with a spoon or a scraper until the flour is incorporated and it resists further mixing.
- Transfer the dough in a working surface and knead by hand for 20-30 min., or until the dough is elastic enough to resist tearing when stretched.
- Let dough to ferment and double-in-size (approx. 3-6 hours in room temperature, or from overnight and up to 2 days in the fridge).
- Shape the dough in the desired form and let it rise again (proofing) for 1 hour and in the meantime preheat the oven.
- Bake at 220°C for 20 min. Decrease the temperature to 180°C and keep baking for 40 min. more or until the whole house smells wonderful!
Durum wheat bread can be eaten in any occasion and can be combined with sweet and savory toppings. Here are my suggestions:
for breakfast with peanut butter and honey,
as a snack or antipasto with a dried-tomato pesto and basil.
My home kitchen is miles away from Altamura and therefore I cannot claim the DOP status to my own durum wheat bread. Nevertheless, from all the breads I have baked, this one is my favourite. Except of the texture and its nutritional profile, it has such an extraordinary aroma and a complex sweet flavor that captivates me more than any other bread.
I still don’t know exactly what bread I was eating as a kid, but surely I know what bread I’m eating now.
For more information about Altamura bread and sourdough check this video