This recipe comes from Stan's Aunt Melodee and her fiance David. They came for a visit and this was their contribution to the family dinner - it is crave-worthy, crusty and chewy, and oh-so-unbelievably easy!! I asked if I could share this recipe and they agreed. So grateful to them, for all their help (and for this awesome recipe).
First off, you'll need some hardware - a dutch oven, cast iron or stoneware. Enameled cast iron is their preference, but they borrowed my Pampered Chef "magic pot", aka Deep Dish Covered Baker. It worked great. We'll be working with some high temps, so do check use instructions on your pot first. If you have to reduce temps, increase bake time 5-10 minutes in each step.
Then, you'll need to plan ahead. There's no kneading, or pounding... but you will have to give the yeast time to do its magic. Mix up the sponge, or dough, a day ahead (18 hours). So think of this as a "before you go to bed, and when you get home from school/work the next day", kind of adventure.
Rustic Italian Bread
30 oz (approx. 6 cups) flour, I used whole wheat and increased the water by 2 T)
1/2 t yeast
1-1/2 t salt
3 c water
1 T cornmeal
1 T flour
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Pour in water and stir to mix. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let sit on counter overnight, or 18 hours.
Put dutch oven, with lid, in oven and preheat to 450F for 30 minutes. Just before the 30 minutes are up, put a little flour on the counter and dump the sponge/dough out onto it. Fold all four sides into the center, use a large spatula or dough scraper if you need to. Carefully take the dutch oven out of the hot oven, sprinkle cornmeal on the bottom.
Pick up the sponge and plop it down into the hot dutch oven. Yes, plop. Do a happy dance that you didn't have to knead dough. Put the lid on and return it to the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the lid. Continue baking for an additional 30 minutes at 450F.
The bread should be nice and toasty brown with a total cook time of about an hour.
Let cool for a few minutes then take out and put on a cooling rack. Allow to cool on rack (if you can bear to wait that long before digging in). Slice and enjoy! We had ours with a little butter and honey.
-- Sponge Cryostasis --
If, for some reason, you can't get to baking the sponge in the proper time, seal the bowl well with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for up to 12 hours. Return the sponge to room temperature before baking as directed above.