One of the paradoxes of recipes for this deservedly popular bread is that many of them suggest adding a pinch of salt to make it more palatable. Bread without any salt is strangely mute, though when this commodity was hard to come by or heavily taxed, it was often omitted by bakers. The French once used to think English bread impossibly salty, high seasoning masking the natural nuttiness of the flour.
Salt does have a useful function, particularly in yeasted breads. Although salt may attack yeasts, even kill them if used to excess, it conditions the flour, makes it firmer and more resilient, while yeast in a way makes flour softer and less textured.
The saltless bread of Tuscany gets round the problem of flavour by being a natural accompaniment to salty foods like cured hams, salamis, or anchovies. Its open texture and rustic character ensures that it looks the part as well as tastes it.
You need to make the starter for this bread the day before you bake it.
© 2005 Tom Jaine. All rights reserved.