August 17, 2012

Tomato Salad on Herbed Dutch Oven Bread

This summer. It's been a little bit ridiculous. Full of little trips out to the Carolina sound, Virginia farm country, Maryland's Patuxent River, outdoor summer concerts, and very few weekends at home. It's fine like that but then you wake up and it's the middle of August. How did this happen? And what did I cook and eat in this time? Slow-cooked crock pot meals with rice, shredded chicken in lettuce wraps, countless sandwiches and bowls of ice cream. Now re-assessing summer eats in mid-August makes me tired of the summer heat and ready for those hints of fall air, college football Saturdays, apple butter cooking on the stove, and baking with cans of pumpkin. But it's only August. We still have a few long, hot days to savor, evening summer storms, patio dinners.

Here is one of those delightful suppers that really can't be duplicated to the full extent of its enjoyment in any season but summer. The idea came from an abundance of fresh red and yellow tomatoes, an afternoon free for bread baking, and a fastidious following of The Pioneer Woman. Plus, anyone who has ever baked bread in a Dutch oven understands my enthusiasm for this bread recipe. It bakes up so crusty and golden in those ceramic walls, and a generous splash of olive oil before baking gives this bread a buttery rich crust that you just can't duplicate with everyday sandwich bread. This bread is so special. I used chives and thyme but it would also be delicious with rosemary and some kind of nut-infused or basil olive oil.

For the tomato salad, I used farmer's market tomatoes and plenty of minced garlic. Lemon olive oil gives this salad a touch of brightness that I just love for summer. And yes, we did have this bread-and-tomato concoction with a couple of strips of bacon. But bacon or no, this is a gorgeous and fairly fancy supper that really can't go wrong. Celebrate these last few weeks of tomato season, pull out your Dutch oven, and start snipping those herbs because you need this meal in your life.

Herbed Dutch Oven Bread
Adapted from Ratio and The Pioneer Woman

4 cups bread flour
1 cup water, room temperature
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup (or more) chopped chives and thyme
2 teaspoons salt

Sprinkle yeast over water to activate the yeast and let stand for about 10 minutes. In a stand mixer, combine flour, salt, butter, herbs, and water/yeast mixture until all ingredients are combined. Using a dough hook, mix on medium-high for about 15 minutes, checking the dough's elasticity periodically. When you can break off a piece of dough and stretch it to translucency without tearing, the dough is ready to rise. Remove from mixer, knead a couple of times by hand, then place in a non-reactive bowl covered with plastic wrap to let rise for about 2 hours. 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and sprinkle olive oil in a medium-sized Dutch oven. When dough has doubled in size, remove from bowl and knead gently to redistribute the yeast. Re-form into a ball and place in oiled pot. Cut a large X in the top of the dough and sprinkle with a little more olive oil and sea salt, if you want. 
Bake covered for 30 minutes then remove lid and bake for about 20 minutes more, until top is golden and super fragrant. You don't even have to let this bread cool before tucking into it. I served it immediately with the cold tomatoes and can't even explain the deliciousness.

Tomato Salad

1 pound tomatoes, any color, shape, or size
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon (or more) red pepper flakes
3 sprigs thyme, chopped

Cube tomatoes and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Add minced garlic, capers, olive oil, vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the oils and vinegar marinate tomatoes for about an hour. Before serving, add fresh thyme. 

August for the win!

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